MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The boos were raining down on Kevin Love and his 3-pointer wasn’t falling in the building he used to call home.
On nights like this in his six years in Minnesota, Love had no one to turn to for help. In Cleveland, he has LeBron James, and the best player in the world wasn’t about to let his new teammate down on an emotional night.
James scored 16 of his 36 points in the fourth quarter to win a stirring duel with rookie Andrew Wiggins, leading the Cavaliers to a 106-90 victory over the Timberwolves in Love’s first game back in Minnesota since he was traded.
“It was all our responsibilities as his teammates and his brothers to protect him tonight,” James said. “Throughout anything, it was the uncertainty. He didn’t know what to expect. He could lean on us throughout everything that happened today and for us we just had to go out there and help him get a win.”
Love finished with 14 points on 6-for-14 shooting and 17 rebounds. But he was just 1 for 5 on 3-pointers and was outshined by Wiggins, the headliner in the three-team deal that got Love out of Minnesota.
Wiggins had 33 points and four steals for the Timberwolves (8-39), who gave Love and the Cavaliers all they could handle in front of a standing-room-only crowd.
“I love a big stage,” Wiggins said. “I love playing in the spotlight. A lot of fans. Big crowd.”
James kicked things into gear in the final nine minutes. He scored 13 straight for the Cavs, who have won 10 straight to improve to 29-20.
Thaddeus Young scored 19 and Nikola Pekovic had 14 points and 12 rebounds for the Timberwolves, but they were just 3-for-19 in the fourth quarter.
Trailing by five early in the fourth, James responded by thundering to the rim for a dunk, hitting a 3-pointer, three free throws and another 3 over Wiggins’ outstretched hand to give the Cavs a 94-87 lead with five minutes to play.
Love was traded to Cleveland in the blockbuster deal of the summer, bringing Wiggins, the No. 1 overall pick, Anthony Bennett and Young to Minnesota. Love made three All-Star teams as a Timberwolves forward, but they never made the playoffs. And he drew the fans’ hire by requesting a trade at the end of last season.
Love was booed throughout the game, except for during a brief video tribute in the first quarter highlighting his six seasons in Minnesota.
He exchanged hugs with Wolves owner Glen Taylor and his wife, Becky, and laughs with Pekovic and Wolves coach Flip Saunders during the game. He focused on those moments more than the booing when asked after the game.
“Truth be told, I thought it was a pretty good reception, especially from people with familiar faces,” Love said.
When the video was over, all the good will went out the window. Every touch of the ball was booed. Every missed shot was cheered as loudly as a dunk by Wiggins, who gave James everything he had. That included out-running him to a loose ball and throwing down a dunk to get a rare sellout crowd roaring.
“He showed tonight that he’s got potential, that he’s going to be a superstar in this league,” Saunders said. “He rises to the moment. He’s not afraid of the moment.”
Cavaliers: Earlier in the week, the Timberwolves produced a tongue-in-cheek video touting the return of Mike Miller, who spent one season in Minnesota as a jab at Love’s comeback. “Every time I play somewhere I feel a connection,” Miller said. … Kyrie Irving had a quiet night with 12 points on 4-for-16 shooting.
Timberwolves: Ricky Rubio plans to play on Monday against Dallas, ending a 43-game absence with an injured left ankle. … Flip Saunders said F Shabazz Muhammad (oblique) was making some progress in his rehab, but the team wouldn’t have a clear timeline for his return until next week. … The 19-year-old Wiggins became the first teenager to score at least 23 points in a half since Irving did it in 2012.
Injuries to Mo Williams (hip) and Zach LaVine (ankle) left the Wolves with just one healthy point guard for the game in Lorenzo Brown, who just signed a 10-day contract on Wednesday. Brown had one point and nine assists and played almost the entire game.
Cavaliers: Host Philadelphia on Monday.
Timberwolves: Visit Dallas on Monday.
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