The Minnesota Timberwolves limped into Saturday night’s contest in Portland losers of five straight games, and looking more like a team planning early summer excursions than focusing on the finer points of pick and roll coverage. The Trail Blazers shot over 60 percent from the field and 50 percent from three, on their way to one of the most comfortable wins of the season, 112-100.
For a scant few minutes the Blazers looked like they were disinterested. But Minnesota didn’t play defense beyond the first pass, and didn’t make the extra pass on the other end.
The first quarter saw the triumvirate of Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic set the tone. Like the vikings of old, they strode into enemy territory and took whatever they pleased. Minnesota, shocked by their aggression, acquiesced and became willing participants in their own demise. A combined 19 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals from the trio was only marred by three unforced turnovers that allowed Minnesota to keep things respectable. The second quarter continued the trend. with McCollum the benefactor: open shots, guarded shots, it didn’t matter, he sunk nearly all.
Unlike previous appearances this season, the Blazers’ bench shot the lights out -- albeit in limited opportunities. When both the core and the bench start knocking down shots, few team in the league can hang with the Blazers. Portland shot 66.7 percent in the second quarter while only committing one turnover. The result was a 33-point quarter for the good guys, while holding Minnesota under 30.
The third quarter saw the Timberwolves break out the, “okay we’re not going to be embarrassed for all four quarters” game face. Andrew Wiggins and Ricky Rubio did their best to backpack Minnesota out of the hole they dug themselves. However, they forgot about Karl Anthony-Towns, who attempted (and made) a single shot. One of the best players in basketball attempted just one shot in the quarter, without registering any other statistic, in seven minutes of game time. If that doesn’t put where this Timberwolves team is in perspective, nothing will.
The fourth quarter saw Lillard play nine whole seconds, while McCollum sat before the five minute mark. That’s one of the few times that Portland has sat both of those guys so early, while being on the good side of a blowout.
Tonight serves as one of the one of the handful of games this season that Portland has been in control of from essentially the opening tip. I’m not sure how much that says about Portland as much as it does about the state that Minnesota finds themselves in, but a win is a win at this time of the year.
Portland didn’t do anything radically different than usual. While they shot staggeringly well from the field, they weren’t creating shots that were significantly statistically better than normal. On the season, the Blazers average over 21 assists per game, tonight they had 24. So it wasn’t like the ball was swinging around and resulting in a Warriors-esque level of open shots and playmaking. Guys were just taking and making the shots they typically get in the flow of the offense.
The same was true from beyond the three-point line. While yes, they shot 50 percent, they weren’t jacking up any more or less than they normally do. The Wolves were more than complicit here, running under screens on Lillard and McCollum probably isn’t in their scouting reports, and that results in good looks for guys that are already capable of scoring on bad-to-terrible shots. That kind of math doesn’t end up well for opponents very often.
While CJ McCollum’s majestic shooting will carry the day for the Blazers, the defensive play on Towns by Nurkic, Noah Vonleh, and Meyers Leonard deserves praise. Towns is a world class player who was reduced to superb-but-invisible role player. That doesn’t happen unless those three guys commit to shutting him down. Kudos to the Timberwolves too, for helping the Blazers by not attempting to get him involved.
All in all, the Blazers put their heads down and got the win they needed to get to keep pace with the Nuggets for the 8th and final playoff spot. If they hope to secure that position. they need to win games like tonight, and tomorrow in Los Angeles against the Lakers.
Christian James McCollum did the thing tonight. While 30-point outbursts aren’t exactly shocking from CJ anymore, getting 32 points on 13 shots is probably the second-most efficient scoring night of the season for the Blazers. If not for Lillard’s 49 on 21 shots, this would’ve taken the cake. The fact that he made it all look so easy at times only makes it that much sweeter.
Speaking of looking easy, Damian Lillard had 21 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds and 3 steals in 29 minutes. This was one of those nights were both Lillard and McCollum could’ve gone for 40+ points, seemingly effortlessly.
Jusuf Nurkić barely missed another double-double, finishing with 14 points and 9 rebounds. But again, he was efficient as well, spending only 22 minutes on the floor tonight.
While no one from the Blazers’ bench really took off, they collectively played fantastic. In total, the bench missed 11 shots while hitting 19 of them. Evan Turner and Al-Farouq Aminu both shot 4-for-5 from the field, while Allen Crabbe chipped in 10 points to the cause. The only negative from this group coming from Turner. who had some of the worst passes I’ve seen this season. The only justification I can think of is the brace on his hand. Otherwise, outstanding play all around!
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Next up, a quick trip to Los Angeles to face the Lakers Sunday evening!