The Portland Trail Blazers played the first half of tonight's game against the Minnesota Timberwolves as if they expected to lose. Perhaps they had an excuse or two in mind. LaMarcus Aldridge remained sidelined. The 'Wolves looked motivated. Kevin Love and J.J. Barea were on fire, approaching unstoppable. Aside from a couple nice plays and a whole bunch of bilge bailing from Damian Lillard, the Blazers left nothing in their wake to recommend their chances. Then Coach Terry Stotts turned to the press table and saw a big, red Easy Button sitting right in front of him. It was labeled "Thomas Robinson". Stotts shrugged, hit it, and 24 minutes later the Blazers waltzed off the court with a 108-97 victory.
There's no mystery to Portland's struggles through most of the first two periods. They did a few things well. Threes fell. Lillard was a maestro on offense, scoring off the drive and from range. The Blazers hit all the foul shots they were granted. These strong points kept the game from being a blowout. That's not facetious. Portland drifted down by 14 points in the first half but it felt more like 40. No matter how much the Blazers scored they were plagued by demons in triplicate. They turned over the ball incessantly. They showed little familiarity with Minnesota's plays and even less willingness to cover jump shooters (nearly the only thing the 'Wolves are good at, absent Nikola Pekovic). And most of all the Blazers could...not...rebound. They could not rebound in a box. They could not rebound with a fox. They could not rebound here or there. They could not rebound anywhere. Not only did this leave the Blazers one-and-done on every possession, offensive rebounds provided the Timberwolves their only non-break interior scoring of the game. And they got plenty of it. Minnesota led after one, 34-26. They maintained their edge through most of the second period, holding a 60-46 advantage with 1:30 remaining in the second period.
That's when Robinson gave the Timberwolves and Blazer fans a foretaste of the feast to come, converting back-to-back offensive rebound buckets for 4 quick points. A Nicolas Batum dunk would pull the Blazers within 8, 60-52, at the half.
Robinson's singular status as the only Blazer expending energy on anything but his own shot attempts earned him the nod as the third period commenced, replacing starter Dorell Wright. Robinson paid dividends in two critical ways.
1. Kevin Love had been bullying Wright down low, forcing the Blazers to mix coverage on him. They tried Robin Lopez. They tried Batum. They tried switching everything and doubling him. Nothing worked. Love took bigger guys outside and shot over them. He scored around help defense or the 'Wolves found the open shooter. Robinson started the second half guarding Love straight up. His energy bothered the All-Star. Also Love and the 'Wolves engaged in Stupid NBA Trick #6. Taking advantage of a mismatch is smart. But throwing the ball to your advantaged player and standing around watching him trying to take advantage is usually a bad idea. This is doubly true when that player scores from the outside. You might be able to post Dwight Howard against Joel Freeland 92 times in a row because dunks are hard to miss. But Robinson bodied up Love, forcing him to the jump shot. Instead of moving the ball, Love just went at T-Rob. Covered jumpers are still covered jumpers even if the guy guarding you is deemed a lesser talent. Open shots morphed into contested ones. The 'Wolves began to miss.
2. Robinson erased Portland's biggest first-half issue, the lack of rebounds. Minnesota got a couple early in the second half. Then the well dried up. Now the 'Wolves were one-and-done. And again, that was the major source of interior scoring for them. Missed jumper followed missed jumper. The Blazers vacuumed up those misses and the comeback door swung wide open.
Given the opportunity, Lillard and Batum made sure the Blazers could capitalize. Lillard fought foul trouble but still managed to drain 5 of 8 triples en route to an 11-17 night and 32 points in 30 minutes of play. Batum reversed his recent trend, looking for his shot early and often, hitting 9-15 for 22 points. When those two weren't making hay the Blazers were threshing the Timberwolves on the break. Turnovers and rebounds with quick outlets prompted a Portland blitz that the 'Wolves weren't prepared for. The Blazers would end up with 19 points on the run, the most spectacular of which came when Robinson judo-chopped a Corey Brewer dunk attempt into the hands of Victor Claver who sent a laser pass to Wesley Matthews who then found Will Barton for a huge alley-oop slam. If you missed it, don't worry. This play will adorn Trail Blazer video montages for the foreseeable future. Robin Lopez drew an entire comic book about it during Portland's next timeout huddle. That block dialed Chuck Norris collect to call him a weak poser and Chuck agreed.
Portland kept up the defense through the fourth period. Minnesota had little interest in guarding the Blazers in the first place. They prospered in the first half through Portland's defensive indifference more than their own prowess. "Little interest" became "no interest" as the Blazers streaked ahead. The Timberwolves folded as the Blazers converted open looks, never making a serious run at the victory they once thought was theirs. The Blazers pocketed the 108-97 win and more than a dash of inspiration.
How gruesome was the rebounding situation tonight? The Timberwolves grabbed 21 offensive boards. 21. And that was without Pekovic. The Blazers ended up with 12, most of those in the second half. Fortunately Portland found other advantages. Three-point shooting returned. The Blazers hit 13 of 28, a 46% clip. The Timberwolves managed only 9 of 28. The Blazers shot 48% overall to Minnesota's 40%. Portland won the battle of the paint 44-38 and the transition battle 19-3. The Blazers also had 7 blocked shots on tight interior defense. Aside from the three-point advantage this was the most un-Portland win of the season. Losing the offensive rebound advantage, gaining no advantage on free throws, and firing 11 fewer attempts than the opponent...none of those are Blazer hallmarks. Obliterating the opponent on the break, playing good interior defense, and scoring more in the paint aren't exactly classic 2013-14 Trail Blazer traits either. Sometimes energy and heart make odd things happen. Tonight was certainly one of those nights.
Thomas Robinson finished the game with 14 points, 18 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 assists and 0 turnovers in 33 minutes. It was the biggest game of his NBA career. His performance had his teammates alternating between chortling in glee and jumping out of their seats. He wasn't the only contributor tonight but he was the guy who made other people's contributions matter instead of just becoming footnotes in a tough loss.
We have an unconfirmed rumor that as the 30,000 streamers fell from the Moda Center ceiling following Portland's win Robinson ran around rebounding and swatting away every single one before it hit the floor. Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge dragged Robinson from the court, saying, "Save it for the next game, T-Rob."
Speaking of Damian Lillard, his magnificent and efficient 32-point performance would have been the talk of the town on any other night. When the Blazers needed him, he delivered. And they needed him all night.
As mentioned above, we had a Nicolas Batum sighting tonight! He began the evening with a nifty, aggressive pull-up jumper and never really quit. Whenever he had the open look or an open lane he took advantage. That's not out of character for him against the Timberwolves but it's still good to see. He shot 9-15, 3-6 from the arc, scored 22, had 10 rebounds, dished 4 assists, and blocked 3 shots.
Robin Lopez didn't have anybody to guard in this game. The 'Wolves were all mobile and their bigs could shoot. No matter who Lopez got switched onto they pulled him out of the lane. Plus the Blazers didn't put him down low on offense. This accounted for the massive dearth of rebounds in the first half...a trend that lasted until Robinson provided at least a temporary answer to the eternal question, "If Lopez doesn't do this stuff, who will?" It's worth mentioning that Portland's paint defense was ultra-pathetic in that first half as well. They're so used to Robin being back there that they couldn't cope without him. They righted that ship in the second half as well. Lopez's shift was shorter then. He finished the game with 5 rebounds, 6 points, and a block in 28 minutes.
Dorell Wright started but played only 7 minutes. I'm beginning to suspect he might not be a true power forward. I'm also beginning to suspect the sky is blue.
Mo Williams played 28 minutes, partially due to Lillard's foul trouble. He shot 2-7 but made up for it with 5 rebounds and 5 assists.
Victor Claver pulled 24 minutes in this game, most in the second half. His defense was solid and he pitched in 5 rebounds in 24 minutes. They should add an event on All-Star Weekend for Claver and Minnesota's Ricky Rubio: the Non-Shooting Contest. They can each line up on opposite sides of the court with a rack of balls in front of them and look for someone else to pass to. "I think there's a popcorn vendor open in section 204! Heads up, Barney!" Whomever passes up the most shots in 1 minute is declared the winner.
Will Barton stole C.J. McCollum's minutes and hit a three along with his alley-oop finish. Barton and Barea must be some kind of weird vampires, sucking the will to shoot out of Claver and Rubio and feasting on it themselves.
Timmay's Instant Recap and Gameday Thread Review If you want to scroll through the Gameday Thread t's easy to find the Robinson Block. JUST LOOK FOR ALL THE CAPS LIKE THIS! OMG THOMAS ROBINSON BEAST MODE WHAT DID I JUST SEE?!?!?
Canis Hoopus cannot be a pleasant place to hang out after that.
Your Jersey Contest results and the form for the next game are HERE. Tonight's Answers: Portland won the game, four times over. TBone won tonight's game with a score of 98 out of 100. Thankyouforblaze leads the month with 501 points in 8 games, a 62.6 average.