Fresh off an electric 123-111 home victory over the Indiana Pacers on Thursday, the Portland Trail Blazers played the first of a four-game road trip Saturday, paying its second visit to the Target Center to take on the Minnesota Timberwolves. In their last meeting, Portland walked away with a 106-101 win over an energized Wolves team following an emotional pregame tribute.
As usual, the spotlight was on Minnesota's pair of no. 1 picks, Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, and one intriguing matchup heading into the contest would be Wiggins playing opposite Al-Farouq Aminu, who had a large part in holding Pacers' All-Star Paul George to just 11 points and 0-9 three-pointers on Thursday.
The game also featured future Hall-of-Famer Kevin Garnett's 26,000th career point, which he scored early in the third quarter. Garnett is currently fifteenth on the NBA all-time scoring list.
The Blazers were led by Damian Lillard (19 points, 7 assists), CJ McCollum (17 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds) and Aminu (16 points, 3 steals). The Wolves were led by Towns (27 points, 7 rebounds) and Wiggins (17 points, 5 rebounds).
The Aminu-Wiggins matchup was on full display early, with both getting the look on offense. Aminu scored Portland's first eight points before forcing himself to the bench with two illegal pick calls.
Wiggins used some impressive cuts to slice through the Blazer defense and was a perfect 5/5 from the field in the opening quarter as the Wolves opened up a double-digit lead. He certainly appears to be more comfortable asserting himself as the focal point of Minnesota's attack, something he had at times lacked during his rookie season.
The Wolves did a good job hounding Lillard and were effective meeting him at the rim with the duo of Garnett and Towns, holding league's seventh-leading scorer to 1/6 shooting in the period and just 2/8 in the first half. You might say the tutelage of the former Defensive Player of the Year is paying dividends to the prized young rookie, as Towns looked as imposing as any center Portland has faced this season challenging guards in the paint.
Dame's first bucket came on an impressive reverse-with-English layup in traffic - while highlight-worthy, it would be a good indicator of the defensive pressure Lillard would face all night.
End of First: Portland 22, Minnesota 32
With the Blazers' leading scorers lacking their usual punch, the role players struggled to pick up the slack. Minnesota clearly read the scouting report and ran Portland's shooters off of the three-point line and forced them to make decisions with the ball. The result was nine turnovers in the first half, as being pushed from its comfort zone led to some sloppy play and ill-advised shots.
Meyers Leonard connected on three straight possessions for seven quick points, but picked up his third foul halfway through the quarter and was promptly yanked. Early foul trouble again proving to be a problem for this Blazers squad.
Towns began to find his shooting stroke as well, connecting on his own set of jumpers before Wiggins' free throw gave Wolves a 15-point lead at 54-39.
Ed Davis would be more of his usual, one-man wrecking crew on the boards, hustling to eight points and six rebounds in the opening half, despite battling the likes of Towns and Garnett. His driving dunk off a Lillard assist brought Portland within 11, but more importantly, signaled the sky wasn't falling.
Halftime: Portland 46, Minnesota 59
The Blazers finally broke out of its funk in the third quarter, scoring 34 points, getting back into its "flow" offense and flashing energy and ball movement absent during the first half.
After only scoring three points heading to the locker room, McCollum exploded for 12 in the period and ignited a Portland run which quickly closed the gap. Towns continued his strong play, scoring eight in period, but Wiggins finally started to cool off and the Wolves struggled to keep up with Portland's blistering pace.
McCollum's three cut the lead down to seven at 73-67 and followed it up with a nice driving layup a couple possessions later which brought the Blazers within two. Lillard's driving layup completed the comeback, but the offense stalled in the final minutes, failing to push over the hump.
End of Third: Portland 80, Minnesota 82
Coach Terry Stotts opted to ride the production of his second unit into the fourth and the decision panned out - Allen Crabbe and Meyers Leonard both found nothing but net on each of their first two jumpers, giving Portland its first lead since the first quarter at 84-82, and Davis made up for missing a pair of three throws with a nice hook-shot in traffic to put the Blazers up six at 95-89.
Minnesota responded by tightening the bolts on defense even further, forcing several long, drawn-out possessions without a good shot attempt. Still, Lillard drilled a crowd-silencing three to restore a four-point lead at 98-94, and Leonard avoided a near offensive-breakdown, which could have really swung the momentum towards the Wolves with just minutes remaining, to find a driving McCollum for the floater to extend the lead back to six.
Minnesota opted to Hack-a-Davis going down the stretch, but the 55% shooter on the season made them pay, converting 3/4.
Hanging within five in the final minutes, Towns rimmed in a three to pull the Wolves within two, and more tough defense on the other end forced the Blazers' second shot-clock violation of the period.
Towns would not be the hero, though, as his potential game-leading three with 37 seconds to go was off, and Davis, fittingly, corralled the decisive rebound.
Lillard's driving layup high off the glass over Tayshaun Prince extended the lead to four and just about put the game away.
Yes - Prince, the 34-year-old veteran was subbed in by Wolves' coach Sam Mitchell for the final defensive possession in place of Towns in one of the more curious lineup decisions of the night.
The comeback would mark one of the more impressive Blazer wins so far this season, overcoming a large deficit on the road against a team hungry for revenge, and in doing so also sealing its first victory after trailing while entering the fourth quarter.
Portland gets a day off and then moves on to Milwaukee to take on the struggling Bucks at the BMO Harris Bradley Center Monday at 5 p.m. Stay tuned to Blazer's Edge tonight, for extended analysis of this game from Dave Deckard.
-- Ryan Rosback | email@example.com | Twitter
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