Whenever the Portland Trail Blazers are in need of a nice road win, they can always count on the Minnesota Timberwolves. That's the way it seems anyway; for the second time this season the Blazers overcame a double-digit deficit in Target Center tonight, defeating the Timberwolves 109-103.
Normally I start these recaps with a Game Flow section. Instead I'll refer you to Ryan Rosback's excellent rendition of the Instant Recap, which covers the ups and downs of the action. Suffice it to say that the Blazers came out of the gate defending poorly, allowing the Timberwolves a 32-point first period and 59-point half. Minnesota treated the lane like an all-day ride pass at Mall of America, whooping it up until they got dizzy from all the fun. Portland reverted to a collapsing, lane-barring defense in the second period. As the Timberwolves drifted outside their effectiveness diminished. Meanwhile CJ McCollum, Meyers Leonard, and Allen Crabbe stroked the twine, turning a 17-point hole into a mountain of goodness. Minnesota scattered a few good plays into the closing quarters but couldn't sustain enough of a run to stop Portland's momentum. They had the Blazers on the ropes but couldn't finish them off. If you give Portland enough chances, they're going to hurt you.
Something in the Trail Blazers DNA will not let them defend early in the game. Even when an opponent's weaknesses dictate an obvious game plan, the Blazers don't execute with any vigor until they've spotted the other guys a hefty lead. A defensively-challenged starting lineup provides part of the explanation, but the same starters who look laughable in the first quarter are ready to perform at the start of the third and end of the fourth. If Portland could avoid giving up 30 points per quarter before intermission, they might become a decent team.
This game pointed out how critical Portland's secondary scorers are to their success. Damian Lillard had a fairly typical, if muted, outing. Ricky Rubio and the 'Wolves knew their target and kept pressure on Dame. Meanwhile McCollum struggled early and Leonard didn't get many shots, leaving the Blazers deep in debt. CJ and Meyers made like slot machines in the second half, spinning up Triple-7's and leading Portland from rags to riches. Since taking over his team's offense, Lillard has become the flour in the cake. He's the main ingredient, holding the rest together. McCollum and Leonard are the sugar. They're not quite as integral but without a healthy dose, the cake isn't worth eating.
Ed Davis and Mason Plumlee played admirably tonight. You can gauge their success by offensive rebounds alone. Davis had 2, Plumlee 4. Converting stops into conversions turns Portland's offense from good to great. The sturdiest Blazer bigs aren't always scoring off of their rebounds directly but they're greasing the wheels that end up rolling over the opponent.
Allen Crabbe's hot streak continues. If the Blazers getting second chances off of offensive rebounds isn't fair, Crabbe scoring like he belongs in the starting lineup really isn't fair. You can see defenses shaking their heads. "We stopped the guys we were supposed to, then this guy kills us???" Don't look now, but Portland's bench is getting downright productive.
Portland shot 51% from the field tonight, 50% from the arc...the second straight game in which they've achieved those marks. I'm guessing they won't lose as long as their numbers remain that high.
For most of the game Damian Lillard seemed as quiet as the Target Center crowd, a group that sat on their collective hands as their team prospered. Lillard scored 19 on 6-15 shooting, adding in 7 assists. Ricky Rubio had 15 dimes.
CJ McCollum shook off his slow start, finishing 3-5 from distance and 7-17 overall for 17 points. He registered 6 assists. His passing and defense have been on the rise the last couple weeks.
Allen Crabbe shot 5-9 for 11 points but he didn't lead the bench in scoring. That honor belonged to Meyers Leonard, whose 6-10 performance gave him 14 for the game. Ed Davis had 13 points and 8 rebounds, leaving the sweetest shooter on the team right now as the third most valuable player off the pines. That tells you something about how the bench is rolling.
Al-Farouq Aminu started the game a little shaky but quickly rounded into form on both ends. Like Crabbe, he's on a serious upsurge. 5-7 shooting, 3 steals, and 16 points. Mid-teens scoring nights from non-guards really help this team.
9 rebounds comprised the bulk of Mason Plumlee's contribution.
Gerald Henderson had the distinction of scoring 8 points off of 1 made shot. He made 6 trips to the foul line, hitting 5. He's looking much better than he did a week ago.
Links and Notes
I'd pay to see Karl-Anthony Towns play every night. I'd pay just as much to not see Zach LaVine.
Canis Hoopus will be frustrated about this outcome...again.
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