In a Nutshell
After a mediocre first half the Blazers turn up the heat in the third quarter and march away from the Timberwolves for a perfunctory victory.
Once again the Blazers started out this game slowly, as has been their wont against easier opponents. Minnesota opened with inspired interior defense and surprisingly good play from center Darko Milicic. Portland's interior defense was permissive. Minnesota jumped out to an 8-2 lead which they maintained up to 12-6. Then the Blazers showed they were going to be at least half serious about this game, rattling off 7 straight by attacking the rim. Portland also applied a wrinkle to their offense, repeatedly using Nicolas Batum to set the offense up top, running Andre Miller off the ball. It was a trend that would continue through most of Batum's first-half minutes. It wasn't a huge improvement but it wasn't a disaster either. Then again the 'Wolves don't pressure or defend well. With neither team interested in stopping the other after the first few minutes, Portland exited the first with a 30-29 lead.
The Blazers turned up the defense a notch as the second period progressed. The first few minutes saw the 'Wolves waltz in the lane like they owned it. One timeout later and Portland played strong, forcing Minnesota outside. They employed the Adulterer's Defense on Kevin Love: deny, deny, deny. The only decent looks he got came off of offensive rebounds and at this point, those were still few. Rudy Fernandez disrupted whatever passed for ball movement on the Minnesota side by stealing the ball repeatedly. Only a couple of Michael Beasley threes late prevented a total disaster of a quarter for the Timberwolves. As it was they scored 17 in the stanza. Portland still wasn't employing their full game, however, as they kept missing shots inside and out, mostly out. The Blazers notched 20 and took a 4-point lead into the half.
Portland came loaded for bear (or, I suppose, Wolf) in the third. They started slicing and dicing Minnesota's defense, blowing past defenders and either scoring on layups, getting fouled, or dishing for the quick-hitting three. In the first half the Blazers hit 0 of their 7 three-point attempts. They hit 4 in the third alone. Once the floor was fully open the Timberwolves had zero chance of defending it, particularly when Portland kept the tempo brisk and gave them no time to relax. Minnesota's only bright spot was Kevin Love finally getting enough daylight to scoop boards and get to the foul line. But Love's scoring couldn't match the brutality the Blazers inflicted on the other end. When the buzzer sounded the Blazers had pasted 38 on the 'Wolves and led by a full 15 points. Portland didn't even come close to coughing up the lead in the fourth and finished with an 11-point victory, 113-102.
Portland has tried the Batum-point experiment before. It's never worked that well. It certainly looked better tonight but we'll need to see it run against a decent opponent or two before making a judgment.
Also, not to sound like a broken record, but it's amazing what happens to Portland's offense when the threes fall. For better or worse, this is one of the main keys to their success. When they spread the floor enough for Aldridge to go one-on-one or dribblers to get past their men without instant help coming the Blazers look all-world. When they miss the long ball and opponents collapse the offense looks sad.
LaMarcus Aldridge had 37 points and 12 rebounds and looked about twice as good as Kevin Love did tonight. It's fairly remarkable that this doesn't seem remarkable anymore.
Nicolas Batum was plenty active on the boards with 9 and also helped on defense. He had 3 assists including one really dandy on an Andre Miller cut. He only hit 1 of 11 shots though.
Marcus Camby played but 8 minutes. I was watching the Minnesota feed and didn't hear anything about an injury. [Edit: Ben has it just below.]
Andre Miller had 10 assists and scored 15 points, making the 'Wolves point guards look silly much as he did to New Jersey's a couple nights ago. Maybe trade speculation is getting to him and he wants to show everyone up? If so, more power to him.
Wesley Matthews had a good scoring night with 23 including 8-9 free throws on a night when he put the ball on the floor repeatedly. He also hit 3-6 three-pointers, the only Blazer to hit a good percentage.
The bench got a ton of minutes tonight compared to the usual. Rudy Fernandez led them with 30 minutes played. He had another one of those nights where he did everything but hit shots. The Timberwolves probably thought he was part octopus for all the balls he was tapping away. He ended up with 5 steals. He also got to the rim on multiple occasions but as is typical, rarely finished. If he could put down a dipsy-doodle at full speed he'd be high-grade offensive material. As it he's the most woot-groanworthy player on the squad and maybe among the most in the NBA.
Joel Przybilla finally saw extended minutes with 18. Even though his game looks ground-bound he had 7 rebounds, likely because the opposing centers were even less lift-able than he.
Dante Cunningham showed some signs of spark tonight, a welcome change. He played 27 minutes and went 3-6 from the field, chased down some loose balls, grabbed 3 rebounds, and had a nice block. It wasn't a masterpiece but it wasn't the recent flatline we've seen from him either.
Patty Mills played 12 minutes and got 5 points and 3 assists.
Stats of the Night
- Timberwolves 21 offensive rebounds, Blazers 14
- The teams combined for 70 foul shot attempts, Portland 36 and Minny 34. The Blazers were +8 in makes, however.
- The Blazers had an enormous (for them) 18 fast break points. Some of those came off of steals and some were just that third-quarter tempo pushing.
- Minnesota 64 points in the paint, Portland 58. Lots of interior scoring.
Odd Notes and Links
Canis Hoopus will have the flip side of this story.