The Short Version
The Portland Trail Blazers' slide continues, falling behind early and eventually collapsing late against the Minnesota Timberwolves, who were playing their fourth game in five nights. With the loss, the Blazers fall not only below .500, but also behind the Wolves in the chase for the playoffs. Marcus Camby left the game early with a cut and a strained neck as he dove to the court, and Ben will have updates as they arrive.
Let's be clear here: This was an ugly loss. Bowling shoe ugly. The Blazers were down by 14 quickly, fought back, then folded like origami. The Rose Garden suddenly looks like a walk in the park for opposing teams. Even on nights where the offense shows up (like tonight), the defense was non-existent. Minnesota clearly wanted it more. This is the kind of game where you can't simply shrug it off and move on to the next game. One bad game is a fluke. A couple is a slump. This is now a trend. And an ugly one at that.
The Long Version
The game started with missed jumpers from Aldridge and Love. Rubio wasted no time, taking advantage of a double-team for a nice pass and dunk. Wallace used his size advantage early, but Minnesota picked apart the Blazer D for multiple three-pointers and a 10-3 lead. Nate took his first timeout with 8:48 left in the first, as the fans looked more interested in the phones (and Rubio) than the Blazers. Portland fell behind 15-5 as they changed their direction on offense, focusing on Nic and LaMarcus. But as Camby left the game with a small cut, enter the secret weapon: Joel Przybilla. Within seconds of entering, he’d drawn a charge and tipped in a miss, cutting the lead to 5. However, the Blazers thought their best defensive strategy was leaving Love open for three. Then Martell. It worked out as you’d expect. After four straight three-pointers, it was a 31-17 lead. And at 3:36 left, Nate needed another timeout. Wesley gets his name called, and responds with a nice run, but the three’s kept raining down from Minnesota. And the dunks. Did I forget to mention the dunks? After one, the Wolves led, 40-28.
I don’t know what Nate said between quarters, but he apparently said it loudly, because the Blazers ramped up the D in the second quarter. And I mean immediately, they stole the inbound pass to start the quarter. In just one minute, 4 consecutive steals brought the score to 40-36. Suddenly those easy dunks and three’s eluded the Rubio-less Wolves, and the Blazers finally looked like they cared. Despite a timeout, Portland stepped on the gas. More steals led to a consecutive Nicolas Batum threes, to finally take a 52-49 lead. However, Minnesota wouldn’t go away. Love nailed a three just before halftime, and the Wolves headed to the locker room with a 61-60 lead.
As the third quarter started, the Blazers started to get Aldridge involved. But while his shots bounced out, Minnesota took a 7 point lead. Scrambling for offense, the Blazers looked to an energetic Batum and Wallace, who helped keep the Blazers close. But when Love hit another open three-pointer, Nate took a timeout while behind, 81-73. But a few late three’s (including one from a just-arrived Elliot Williams) cut the lead to 2 after three.
The Blazers tied the game to start the fourth, only to fall behind by 4 within 90 seconds, and 9 after three minutes. Repeated offensive miscues (against improved Wolves D) and multiple breakdowns on defense. Nate immediately tried to get Aldridge involved, but the Minnesota double-team prevented his presence. Meanwhile, the Wolves couldn’t miss, building a 13 point lead as the crowd groaned. With less than 5 minutes left, a struggling Aldridge fouls out while giving up a three-point play to Love, as the fans wonder what happened to the team they saw at the start of the season. Webster and Love finished the Blazers off, while the fans were bored enough to chant for novelty Mexican food in boredom.
Nicolas Batum: 29 points, 3 rebounds, 2 steals. Nic was a tale of two halves. An energetic, hot-shooting first half, then a much quieter second half. Nic's stats have obviously picked up, but it's not translating into an overall team improvement. His in-game play seems to look like a sine wave, moving into positive and negative regularly. However, in the PG position, he struggles with the entry pass, and isn't great in the post. When his three is on, or he's just generally hot, the team can roll. But it doesn't seem to make a difference overall right now.
Gerald Wallace: 25 points (on 17 shots), 14 rebounds, 5 steals. Obviously, we saw "Good Crash" tonight. He had a nice stretch where it felt like he stole every pass that came near him. At least one really nice pass (to Elliot) too. I can't help but see his energy and excitement is gone. Beyond the stretches where the adrenaline kicks in, he's as joyless as any player I've seen.
LaMarcus Aldridge: 14 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists. He shot 50% from the field. He had 7 rebounds in just over 30 minutes. What's not to like? Well, pretty much everything. For whatever reason, LaMarcus has struggled since the All-Star break, and it continued tonight. Minnesota did a nice job of doubleteaming him before he got the ball. And when he did get the ball, he struggled to get up a shot. He'll need to forget this night and get into a groove Monday.
Jamal Crawford: 23 points (3-5 from three), 3 rebounds, 2 assists. This was as invisible as 23 points can get. Jamal did a good job setting up his own shot (and made over half), and he took care of the ball, but the offense floundered all night. The Jamal experiment is starting to look a lot like the Felton experiment, only with more swished shots.
Wesley Matthews: 8 points. He had one nice stretch to help the Blazers come back, then vanished.
Joel Przybilla: 3 point, 6 rebounds, 2 blocks, 1 memorable technical foul. Joel did a nice job swinging momentum during the Blazer comeback, then hurt them a bit later as he drew a T for, well, a move that won't win him fans in Minnesota. Joel gets a passing grade on defense tonight, and I haven't typed that much. Joel looks great so far, considering the length of absence.
No other performances of note. Marcus Camby left early as noted. Elliot Williams did ok in a short shift, scoring 5 points. Teams still haven't scouted his off-the-ball baseline move, so good for us. Felton gets lumped in here with 2 points and 4 assists in 31 (!) minutes.
For Minnesota, all the talk is about the great nights for Kevin Love (42 points, 10 rebounds) and Ricky Rubio (8 points but 12 assists). It's our first look at Rubio, and it was a memorable one. He does a nice job setting up the offense, and has no fear. Love had a memorable night, as he finally had a great performance in his home state. Martell Webster returned to Portland with a memorable haircut, and 21 huge points off the bench.
Let's keep this short.
Shooting: Minnesota's shooting was the key all night. They hit two more three-pointers with three less attempts (12-23, 52%). Being open from three causes that kind of percentage. Portland's shooting would give them a win many nights (48% overall), but wasn't enough to cover for the horrid defense.
Free throws: The hidden story of the second half. By halftime, Minnesota shot 5 while Portland shot 18. However, by the end of the game, they both finished with 28 attempts (Minn hitting 4 more than Portland). Minnesota's second half aggression was rewarded.
The teams were actually fairly close on most stats tonight. Rubio easily helped Minnesota win the assist battle, as only two Blazers had 4 assists. The Blazers won the steal battle (9-4), but many came in one short stretch of energy.
The Blazers get a night off, and a lot of questions. they're back in action Monday, against New Orleans at home. If they lose that game, everyone hit the deck.
Stop by and send some pleasant congrats to Canis Hoopus.