Following two disappointing losses over the weekend, both at the hands of the Phoenix Suns, the Portland Trail Blazers were back in action again Monday as they visited the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Target Center. Opening tip was scheduled for 5 p.m. but was postponed about 30 minutes to allow for a tribute to Wolves coach Flip Saunders, who passed away on October 25 from Hodgkin's Lymphoma.
The Blazers were led by its two-time All-Star Damian Lillard (34 points, 7 assists, 2 steals), CJ McCollum (18 points, 6 rebounds) and Al-Farouq Aminu (17 points, 8 rebounds). The Wolves were led by Kevin Martin's 24 off the bench and also received strong contributions from number one overall pick Karl Anthony-Towns (16 points, 4 blocks) and Ricky Rubio's near-triple-double (12 points, 9 rebounds, 9 assists).
As expected, the Wolves came out inspired and aggressive, following Aminu's free throw to put the Blazers on the board, Minnesota rattled off an 8-0 run capped by Andrew Wiggins' dunk to take an early lead. Number one overall pick Karl Anthony-Towns was featured on the Wolves' first few possessions before opening up the floor to its shooters. Portland struggled to get any consistent offense and was forced to rely on free throws and a few timely layups from Lillard to keep them close. Rubio flashed some of his improved-out-of-nowhere shooting form on couple mid-range jumpers and Shabazz Muhammad's fast break layup put the Blazers in an early 34-17 hole. A quick bucket from Allen Crabbe and a much needed steal-to-layup by Lillard helped keep the score manageable.
End Of First: Portland 21, Minnesota 34
Not to be deterred, Portland's shooters kept hoisting and finally found success against a Minnesota defense which seemed determined to allow Lillard to beat them at the rim no longer. A couple threes by Aminu trimmed the deficit to seven and suddenly Lillard had room to operate. Seemingly flipping a switch, the Blazers were able to dissect the Wolves' defense and create holes - McCollum connected on a three, Mason Plumlee continued to work the pick-and-roll from the "point center" position and quickly Portland looked to be the team in control. A McCollum running layup on the final possession of the half tied the score.
Halftime: Portland 53, Minnesota 53
Picking up where it left off, the Blazers continued to be aggressive and score in the paint. Aside from a McCollum three, four of Portland's first five possessions to start the third quarter ended with a bucket in the post. Meanwhile, Minnesota's hot shooting from the first quarter had all but evaporated, leading to long rebounds and transition offense for the away team. Aminu's breakaway dunk halfway through the period put Portland ahead 69-63. With Wolves' defenders now scrambling to cover open cutters, Lillard took control. Switching with ease between creating his own shot and finding others, Dame scored 15 in the period. Some quick baskets from Martin and Zach LaVine kept Minnesota close.
End Of Third: Portland 83, Minnesota 80
Both teams looked disjointed to start the fourth - McCollum looked to continue attacking but missed his first five shots of the period. Luckily, the Wolves were content to play tit-for-tat with the Blazers' house-building efforts and failed to capitalize. Back-to-back baskets from McCollum and Lillard capped a 12-2 run and brought the lead to double digits for the first time of the night before Wiggins and Martin answered back with five straight points to cut the margin down to five with five minutes remaining. Towns continued the run with a three and big block on LIllard at the other end and suddenly The Wolves were within just two. A controversial basket interference call within the final minute kept Portland's lead intact With a chance to tie, Plumlee forced a miss on Wiggins' driving layup and then tied up Towns on the rebound to secure a jump ball, which went Portland's way. Plumlee had a chance to ice the game on the free throw line, but went 1-2, leaving the Wolves with one final possession. Martin was stripped by Crabbe, who put the exclamation mark on the game with the sealing dunk on the other end.
A day off tomorrow, while the Blazers head to Salt Lake City to complete a short two-game road trip against the Jazz. But stay tuned, Dave Deckard will have extended analysis of tonight's game later.
-- Ryan Rosback | email@example.com | Twitter