With their playoff seeding on the line, the Blazers took the court against the surging Timberwolves. Damian Lillard made his own miracle with seconds to play, but presumptive Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns had the last laugh, finishing off the Blazers.
The Blazers were led by Lillard (31 points), CJ McCollum (21 points), and Mason Plumlee (15 points, 15 rebounds).
Both teams came onto the court looking a bit like YMCA teams. Lots of reckless plays, lots of missed shots. Mason Plumlee was the secret weapon early, scoring inside against the Wolves' soft defense. His and-one gave the Blazers a 16-10 lead. Afterward, Lillard and McCollum took control, slicing up the Wolves to put the Blazers ahead by 10 and threaten to turn the game into a laugher. No such luck though, as Minnesota kept in single digits while the Blazers' bench looked stuck in the fridge. Portland kept an arm's length lead after one.
Portland 28, Minnesota 21
If the Blazer bench was in the fridge during the first, they moved to the freezer for the second. They bricked shot after shot, and their interior defense couldn't stop Minnesota at the other end. The Wolves slowly inched back into the game, finally pulling even when Karl-Anthony Towns tipped in his own miss. As the Blazers fell behind, Stotts turned back to his starters. Aminu swished a three-pointer to pull Portland ahead again, 43-42, but the lead wouldn't last. Andrew Wiggins scored four quick points, and Gorgui Dieng looked unstoppable. The Blazer starters struggled to get the ball in the hoop, finishing the half with McCollum fumbling the ball out of bounds on the drive. Portland headed to the locker room looking for some scoring.
Minnesota 53, Portland 49
The Blazers went to Plumlee to keep things close as the second half started, and Aminu hit a tough three, but the Wolves were able to maintain a small lead. Portland continued to slop it up, including a backcourt turnover to Ricky Rubio, who passed off for a dunk. But Lillard and McCollum played the passing game against the Wolves, and Lillard's open three put the Blazers ahead, 66-65 at the halfway point of the third. But Ricky Rubio hit a three in turn, and Portland found themselves back in a small hole. Every time the Blazers pushed over the hump, the Wolves made a big play to shove them back down: a key three-pointer, forced turnover, or offensive rebound and layup. Portland was still looking for an answer to steal the game after the third.
Minnesota 75, Portland 72
Allen Crabbe's three-pointer beat the shot-clock buzzer to tie the game as the fourth quarter opened. The teams traded buckets for the next few minutes, until McCollum hit a nice three-point play. Unfortunately, that was because the Wolves promptly scored seven straight points to control the game. Portland's turnovers were the bugaboo, combined with one of Gerald Henderson's worst performances of the season. Portland kept things close, but the Wolves hit every shot they needed, and they held a four-point lead halfway through the fourth. Out of the timeout, it was nearly immediately seven. The crowd groaned. When the Wolves finally showed some trouble getting into their offense, Sam Mitchell immediately called timeout during the possession. They scored afterward, then again on the next possession, and they held an 8 point lead with 2 minutes left. A Plumlee hook cut it to 6, then he stole the ball at the other end. McCollum's free throws cut the deficit to 4. They forced a Zach LaVine miss, and Lillard drove to the rim, tossed it up, and everyone watched the ball dance around the rim and fall in. With Portland within 2, the Wolves took timeout.
Out of the timeout, Wiggins worked in the post and got the foul. He hit one, for a Wolves three-point lead. Out of a timeout, the Blazers tried to inbound the ball... and gave up a five second violation. Wiggins posted up Lillard, who fell over and drew an offensive foul. The Blazers took the quick two on a Lillard layup, and fouled LaVine with 7.6 seconds left. He hit both for a three point lead.
Withe the game on the line, the Blazers went to Damian Lillard. Minnesota fouled him to prevent the three... but he shot it anyway. Swish. The crowd went nuts. And his free throw gave the Blazers the lead. But the Wolves were calm. They inbounded to Towns, with Aminu on him. One move, turn, hook, swish. The Blazers had no timeouts, and no heroics remaining. The shell-shocked team left the court, no longer in control of their destiny.
For the Blazers, lots of rest in their own beds, and some scoreboard-watching. As the other teams sprint to the finish, the Blazers have one game left, as Denver visits for a 7:30 pm start on Wednesday. It's very possible that the Blazers will already know their fate before that game starts.
But stay tuned here, as Dave Deckard will have more analysis from tonight's game, an ugly update on the tiebreaker scenarios for the Blazers' playoff seeding.