LeBron James, meet Tyus Jones and the NBA, meet the Timberwolves.
If introductions were needed before the Wolves’ 127-99 rout of Cleveland on Monday night at Target Center, they might not be anymore.
Hours after the man they call King referred to the Wolves’ temporary starting point guard as “Tyler Jones,” Tyus Jones delivered the signature moment in his team’s biggest statement victory so far this season. His rising, unexpected slam dunk came 2½ minutes before halftime, mere minutes after James soared to block Jones’ breakaway layup.
“It’s not the first time,” Tyus Jones said about being called Tyler.
Jones’ dunk brought his teammates sitting on the bench and the season’s fourth consecutive sellout crowd — their first such streak since Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio starred for them in March 2012 — to their feet late in the second quarter of a rollicking good time. The Wolves led by 27 points at halftime and by as many as 41 in the third quarter.
When the Wolves led 96-55 late in the third quarter, it tied the largest deficit James has faced in a regular-season game, matching one against Orlando when he played for the Cavaliers the first time around April 3, 2009.
“They put a good one on us,” James said.
The Wolves led 20-4 before the game was six minutes old after the Cavaliers made only two of their first 14 shots. The Cavs finished the quarter with 18 points after averaging 129 in the first two games new point guard Isaiah Thomas played following his return from a hip injury that ended his 2016-17 season prematurely.
Thomas was ejected from the game in the third quarter after his blow to the chin/throat of Andrew Wiggins was ruled a flagrant foul, type 2.
Wiggins did what he always does when playing a Cleveland team that drafted him and traded him before he ever played there: He had a great game. Wiggins scored a game-high 25 points and beat the Cavs for the first time, in his seventh try. He’s now averaging 29.3 in those seven games against them.
“You never forget,” Wiggins said. “I don’t think any NBA player forgets what team you’re on and that you got traded.”
Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau praised Wiggins for his everything but his scoring.
“The scoring has always been there, but it’s all the other things that are starting to come,” Thibodeau said. “He’s making plays, he’s blocking shots, he’s getting deflections. He’s doing a lot of things that are impacting winning, and that’s probably the most important thing.”
The Wolves both took care of the ball and moved it, committing a season-low five turnovers while recording 30 assists on 52 baskets.
Their defense once so suspect, the Wolves now have held their past six opponents to fewer than 100 points.
“I don’t know if it’s a statement,” Wolves center Karl-Anthony Towns said about his team’s ninth victory in 12 games. “The last two games, we came out with a certain mentality, a certain focus, just paying attention to all the details we sometimes overlook.”
They did so on a night when the Cavaliers’ reserves outscored their starters 71-28, much of that in the Cavaliers’ 32-25 fourth quarter in which every starter from both teams — except for Towns’ brief three-plus minutes — watched from the bench.
If you believe in such things, James finished with a plus-minus rating of minus-39. Wolves star Jimmy Butler, meanwhile, approached a triple-double (21 points, nine assists, eight rebounds) in just three quarters while he held James to 10 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
“I don’t care about no damn plus-minus,” James said.