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CLEVELAND, Ohio — Darius Garland nearly did the unthinkable.

The young All-Star point guard scored a career-best 51 points and almost single-handedly lifted the Cavaliers to their most improbable win of the season.

But not even Garland’s career night could end the team’s downward spiral. The undermanned Cavaliers fell to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday, 129-124. It’s Cleveland’s fourth straight loss and first at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. So much for that brilliant 8-1 start.

With silky jumpers and dazzling drives, Garland ignited a lethargic team and electrified the crowd — at least the fans who stuck it out despite Cleveland facing a one-time 24-point deficit — during a virtuoso fourth-quarter performance that had injured All-Star backcourt mate Donovan Mitchell bouncing around the sidelines.

Mitchell didn’t play Sunday night because of a sore ankle. Jarrett Allen and Dean Wade missed the game as well.

Garland nearly nullified those losses — and the many other circumstances working against the Cavs.

“He was phenomenal,” Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “He kept competing. We were sluggish to start with and could’ve very easily laid down early, but he kept getting after it and tried to will us to a win.”

Tapping into his All-Star form that hasn’t shined through that much so far this season, Garland hit on 16 of 31 from the field and 10 of 15 from 3-point range. He poured in 27 of those points during a scintillating fourth quarter that saw the Cavs cut a 20-point deficit following the third to just three in the final seconds. It’s the first 50-point game by a Cavalier since LeBron James in 2017 — and the first one in the NBA this season. It’s also the 17th game in NBA history a player has had at least 50 points and 10 triples, with Garland becoming the youngest to do that.

After Timberwolves point guard D’Angelo Russell split a pair of free throws, the Cavs had one more chance. Down by three points with 6.5 seconds remaining, there was enough time for Garland to punctuate his masterpiece. Only the Timberwolves sent two defenders at Garland, refusing to let him touch the ball. He couldn’t shake free. Garland didn’t even get a shot, as Kevin Love’s inbounds pass got intercepted and the Timberwolves sealed the win at the foul line.

What a show. What an effort.

The phrase “schedule loss” is well known in the NBA. And Sunday qualifies.

Through three quarters, the Cavs looked very much like a sleepy, jet-lagged team that had returned to Cleveland on Saturday afternoon following an exhausting, cross-country road trip that spun the clock forward three hours. They then tipped off earlier than usual at 6 p.m. without three members of their usual nightly rotation, including a pair of starters.

To say Sunday’s circumstances were unfavorable would be a massive undersell. The game felt over before it even started.

Without defensive stalwart Allen, the lackadaisical Cavs gave up 40 points in the first quarter to Minnesota, which ranks just 23rd on offense this season. The Timberwolves took a 15-13 lead at the 5:50 mark of the first quarter — and didn’t trail the rest of the night. At one point, the lead ballooned to a game-high 24 points before Garland put the team on his back.

Lamar Stevens, inserted into the starting lineup, chipped in with 15 points, while Love had 14.

The Timberwolves got a season-high 30 points and 12 assists from Russell. Karl-Anthony Towns added 29.

In the end, it’s another loss. Hardly the homecoming the Cavs wanted after a discouraging road trip that featured three gut-wrenching late-game collapses.

Up next

The Cavs will play the Bucks in Milwaukee on Wednesday night. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m.

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