One of the few moments of really strong defense for the Blazers in this game.
In a Nutshell
The Blazers waste one of their best jump shooting sprees of the season by going to the well too often, spotting Minnesota an advantage in free throws, rebounds, and eventually made shots. As the Blazers clank three-pointer after three-pointer trying to rediscover the magic the Timberwolves run away with the game. Poor defense from most of Portland's wings doesn't help.
The first quarter of this game was an offensive extravaganza. LaMarcus Aldridge hit a couple shots early but drew two fouls and had to head to the bench. This allowed Kevin Love free rein and he made good by sinking shot after shot, many from the three-point arc. To their credit the Aldridge-less Blazers kept the pace high and their own shots screaming towards the net. In a miraculous turn of events most of them fell. Raymond Felton went 5-5 from the field in the quarter. Everybody else just riffed off of him, finding open jumpers from a collapsing 'Wolves defense or slicing as he cleared the lane for them. The Timberwolves pulled the same trick on the other end, though. Portland sagged deep and didn't recover. The Blazers also began a game-long campaign of horrible defense against screens. Minnesota racked up 7 triples in the period. Portland scored 31 in the first but trailed by 6, 37-31.
The opening of the second period belonged to Aldridge. Freed from the pines he proceeded to spank the 'Wolves from every position on the court. Pick and pop, post up, you name it, he hit it. Portland also tightened up the defense and rebounded well, letting the running game free a little. Felton was instrumental in pushing tempo again here. His fantastic half was made up for in the cosmic balance by Jamal Crawford, who proceeded to show 'Wolves fans why they wouldn't want him in trade for Luke Schenscher, let alone Luke Ridnour. Clang, clang, clang went Crawford's trolley full of missed jumpers. In the end the Blazers lost a point to the Timberwolves in the period despite Aldridge's heroics. Minny led 61-54 at the half.
Portland's already rough defense against picks turned downright atrocious in the third period and remained so for the bulk of the second half. Big men didn't help their smaller comrades. The smaller defenders went around when they should have gone over and over when they should have gone around...if they didn't just hang on the screen like a lost cat to begin with. The result was either open jumpers for the Timberwolves or massive switches leading to easy mismatch points. On offense the Blazers avoided the inside game like the lane was full of cooties, this despite finding success in the first half down deep. They attempted a couple of weak alley-oops and occasionally fought for an offensive rebound. Other than that it was jumper-jumper-jumper, mostly contested. The uncontested ones were from the three-point arc but even the good shooters never bothered to square up. Guess how that went? Minnesota pulled away by double-digits. The Blazers used spurts of rebounding and forced turnovers to fight back to within 5 or so but every time the Timberwolves would just screen them off and hit another easy, open J. When the horn sounded the 'Wolves won by a dozen and Portland's road trip was off to a shaky start.
It's funny how basketball is contagious. Felton authored the first-half spurts that caught the Blazers on fire. He couldn't miss and suddenly nobody else could either. It made the Timberwolves look a step late on everything. Then Crawford began bricking, everybody else tried to make up for it from the perimeter, and suddenly everything came outside and contested. Meanwhile the Blazer wings were running afoul of screens while the bigs just shrugged and all of a sudden Portland's defense looked ponderous while the 'Wolves couldn't miss. Felton, Crawford, and Aldridge were the main actors on offense. The guards and Nicolas Batum (to the good) were in the spotlight on defense. Everybody else rode the tide whichever way it flowed. The point is, this is a five-man game. If all five guys don't play whoever puts the hole in the boat will eventually end up sinking everybody.
Also when the Blazers rebounded well tonight they prospered. When they didn't, they didn't.
I'm going to be brief here because this recap is late.
Aldridge played masterfully on offense but couldn't turn the defensive tide. He didn't get inside much, a combination of not going there and the 'Wolves shoving him around when he tried. What do you want, though? He went 10-18 for 22 points. Some free throws would have helped.
Gerald Wallace had a brilliant game all-around. 13 points, 50% shooting, 9 rebounds, 9 assists. His defense was good but remember he was also off-ball a lot and didn't get embroiled in the screen follies.
Felton went 11-18 for 23 points and 9 assists in one of his best offensive efforts of the season. His defense was about on a par with the other guards, which is not a compliment.
Nicolas Batum couldn't hit his open shots but was one of the only wings playing really good defense despite the picks.
Marcus Camby played 18 minutes and was one of those rolling with the tide, helping out when his team was energetic but not doing anything to change the game when the Blazers started falling apart. One of the sure barometers of this team's energy and execution is how much Camby is moving his feet versus just waving his arms. In any case, the team played better without a true center tonight.
Jamal Crawford went 3-13 from the field, 0-6 from distance, and played his usual defense...unfortunately. It was really telling tonight.
Matthews was a mixed bag. He went 6-12 from the field for 13 points off the bench. He also went 0-5 from distance, including a couple shots that could have been momentum-turners. He was one of those guys not squaring up at all, even with tons of space and time. I don't get it. Nor was his defense that great.
Elliot Williams played 9 minutes, Kurt Thomas 7. I'm lumping them together because they at least looked like they knew what they were doing on the defensive end. Thomas hedged, helped, recovered.. Williams got around screens and even got a couple steals.
Fun with Numbers
- Minnesota 13-23 from the three-point arc, 56.5%. You read that right. And lest you think this was because the Blazers were swarming down on Love, he scored 29 himself on 9-17 shooting. They didn't help well on him, either fouling or letting him get the shot off, and they didn't recover to outside shooters when they did help. Their poor strong-side defense poked holes in the weak side which the 'Wolves exploited all night long.
- Oh, by the way, the Blazers shot 3-23 from distance, 13%.
- Minnesota 19-26 from the foul line, Portland 3-4. This explains where the other Minnesota points went in the 48-30 advantage the Blazers had in the lane.
- Minnesota 15 offensive rebounds.
- Blazers waste 47% shooting from the field.
- Luke Ridnour 22 points on 8-16 shooting with 5 assists and 4 rebounds. Jamal Crawford 6 points on 3-13 shooting with 3 assists and 2 rebounds.
This wasn't Portland's worst game of the season, nor the more disheartening. But every time they got any momentum somebody broke down and cost the team. It's hard to watch a game like that, feeling like you're close but not making the breakthrough. Welcome to the 2011-12 Portland Trail Blazers.
Canis Hoopus will be celebrating the Timberwolves' second win in a row against the Blazers.