CLEVELAND — The Cavaliers insist Kyrie Irving’s ankle was not, is not and will not be an issue, but Cleveland is suddenly limping into the All-Star break.
After their point guard tweaked his left ankle late in the first half, the Cavs simply collapsed in the second, falling 100-92 Monday night to the injury ravaged Minnesota Timberwolves in front of 11,556 at Quicken Loans Arena.
The Timberwolves (19-30), who had lost four straight, 10 of their last 11 and 15-of-17, were minus star player Kevin Love and four others due to injury, but that didn’t prevent them from ending an eight-game road losing streak and improving their record to 4-16 since Love went out with broken bones in his hand.
“I’m baffled,” angry Cleveland coach Bryon Scott said. “What I saw tonight is we had a little adversity and we scattered. We don’t come together. We go our separate ways.”
The Cavs (16-36), who had actually won three straight and seven of their last 10 prior to losing to Denver on Saturday, came apart at the seams, as Minnesota shot 75 percent in the fourth quarter (12-for-16) while getting 13 points from shooting guard Luke Ridnour.
“It was terrible in the second half,” Scott said when asked about his team’s defense. “I wouldn’t even call it defense.”
Compounding matters, Irving hurt his left ankle when he landed on the foot of Alexey Shved after making a 3-pointer with 40.3 seconds left in the first half.
Irving started the second half and scored eight points while playing the entire third quarter, but when the 20-year-old came back in the game with 6:36 to go in the fourth after getting his normal rest, he was unable to get it going again.
Irving was 1-for-5 from the field in the fourth quarter — starting center Tyler Zeller has posted exactly the same numbers over the last three games — and was receiving treatment in the trainer’s room long after the game ended.
A Cavs public relations official said the ankle was “absolutely not an issue” and that Irving was just experiencing general soreness in his legs, but the second-year pro didn’t seem like himself during a fourth-quarter sequence where he shot an air ball, a glass ball, got his shot blocked and committed a turnover.
It all added up to a horrible night against a Minnesota team that had just 10 healthy players and was missing five guys who average a combined 54.1 points.
“I don’t know if it’s the worst loss of the season, but it’s not pretty,” Scott said. “We definitely did not come out and play the way I expected us to play.”
Irving led the Cavs with 20 points to go along with four rebounds and seven assists, while Tristan Thompson was solid again with 16 points and nine boards. Dion Waiters was perfect on six shot attempts, but also had six turnovers in 21 minutes and did not play the last 16:11.
“I don’t know if I’d call it embarrassing,” said swingman C.J. Miles, who had nine points off the bench but was just 1-for-5 on 3-pointers. “At the same time, we definitely should have won the game. We handed it to them.”
The Cavs, who host San Antonio on Wednesday in their last game before the break, committed 20 turnovers that led to 18 Minnesota points, but the T-Wolves were even worse, committing 22 that cost them a whopping 34 points.
Seven of Minnesota’s miscues were by point guard Ricky Rubio, who stuffed the stat sheet with 13 points, three rebounds, 10 assists, five steals and five fouls, while center Nikola Pekovic had 16 points and 10 boards.
Derrick Williams (13 points, 5 rebounds) and Mickael Gelabale (11 points, 6 rebounds) hit back-to-back 3-pointers from the same corner opposite the Cavs bench to put Minnesota up 72-65 after three, but five Cleveland reserves went on a quick 6-0 run at the start of the fourth period to make it a one-point game.
Ridnour, who has a history of killing the Cavs, then started hitting one big shot after another, while Irving’s three quick misses and turnover played a big role in Cleveland falling behind 92-83 with 3:55 left.
“They haven’t learned,” Scott muttered. “It’s obvious. They haven’t learned.”
Scott didn’t blow up at his players after the game, but today’s practice, which originally was supposed to feature a 3-point shooting contest between Scott and Irving, probably won’t be a fun affair.
“It depends on how I sleep,” Scott said. “It’s boiling inside me now.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.