Last-minute free throws from Love lift Cavs over Hornets

Charlotte Hornets guard Terry Rozier fouls Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love (0) late in the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, Feb. 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman)

CHARLOTTE — With just 1.2 seconds left on the clock, Kevin Love sunk a pair of free throws to narrowly guide the Cleveland Cavaliers past the Charlotte Hornets in a 102-101 Friday night thriller in the Spectrum Center. 

Charlotte (28-25) has now lost five out of its last seven games with its first three-game losing streak since Dec. 20.

The final outcome was a heartbreaker for the Hornets (28-25), who had constructed a 34-14 run in the fourth quarter to climb back in the game and lead by three points with less than a minute to play thanks to a 3-pointer from Kelly Oubre Jr. 

After a quick bucket by fifth-year center Jarrett Allen — a culmination of his 29-point, 22-rebound performance — Charlotte raced down the court in an attempt to expand its one-point cushion as Terry Rozier hoisted a long-range jumper. The shot was no good; additionally, an apparent foul by Cleveland on Gordon Hayward’s rebound attempt went unnoticed by referees.

However, that wasn’t the last game-changing moment that officials played a major role in. 

On Cleveland’s final possession, Rozier was tagged with a shooting foul call on Love despite the five-time NBA All-Star not even facing the basket during the whistled contact. Charlotte’s James Borrego issued an unsuccessful coach’s challenge preceding Love’s clutch final free throws for the Cavs (32-21).

“We chose to challenge the play, obviously, that was reviewable. They said it was a foul and they said he was in a shooting motion,” Borrego said before addressing the lack of a foul call in the prior sequence. “I know what I saw and it’s unfortunate. We didn’t get the call there. They chose not to call that loose ball foul, so we move forward. These are things that are out of our control.”

Love’s free throws at the end capped off a strong night for the power forward. Coming off the bench, he was 6 of 14 from behind the arc, finishing with 25 points and nine rebounds. Brandon Goodwin added 12 points and nine assists for the Cavs, while Evan Mobley posted eight points, eight rebounds and eight assists. 

Rozier led the Hornets in scoring with 24 points, and Oubre provided 21 points and nine rebounds off the bench. LaMelo Ball scored 15 points and had six rebounds. Miles Bridges posted 12 points in a timid return after his six-point showing on Wednesday. 

It will be a quick turnaround for the Hornets as they gear up for a Saturday night home matchup with Miami (33-20). The two teams previously met back on Oct. 29, when the Heat architected a 114-99 home victory over Charlotte in the second week of the season. 

“We have to make it harder for these opponents to come in here and know that they’re not getting anything easy,” Oubre said. “We have to create pretty much a culture here at home that states that nothing is going to be easy or given to you. You have to earn everything that you get when you come here, so we’re still working on that.”