The Portland Trail Blazers looked to finish their current road trip strong against the Minnesota Timberwolves in Target Center tonight. Unfortunately “strong” described far more about Minnesota’s play than that of the Trail Blazers. Out-sized by guards, out-thought by bigs, and out-played overall, Damian Lillard and company limped their way through a humbling loss, falling to Karl-Anthony Towns and his cohorts 120-103 in a game that wasn’t ever close.
Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men
The Timberwolves start Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins at the wing positions. Both players are about 6’8 and very gifted athletes. You may see what type of problem this presents for Portland defensively with their small guards. The ‘Wolves entire offense tonight was centered around exploiting those mismatches. They posted up whichever of those wings found himself matched up against Shabazz Napier, Damian Lillard, or CJ McCollum on him. 25 of the Wolves’ first 30 points came from inside the paint or the free throw line. All three of the smallero of little Blazers each found themselves in foul trouble early. Post up, drives, or offensive rebounds, the Wolves were getting to the rim whenever they wanted. In the second quarter, the help came and that only led to open shots for the Wolves.
Let’s Get Physical
The Blazers’ offense survived in the first quarter with great individual plays and tough shots that dropped, but they didn't do themselves any favors by turning the ball over. Charges and bad turnovers plagued a second quarter that proved especially physical, and thus difficult for the Blazers to overcome. The refs let the teams play and Portland wasn't able to cope. Portland finished the second quarter with 10 points total, shooting 2-14 with 7 turnovers. They were down 43-57 at half.
Hungry Like the Wolves
The Timberwolves found no need for to change their game plan in the second half. They posted their bigger wings, looked to move the ball when double teams came, and got great shots. The Blazers had no answer on D.
Offensively, any time the Blazers took ball screens toward the baseline, the Wolves trapped. When the Portland big men popped to be an outlet, the secondary rotation for Minnesota was able to pick off the pass. The Wolves found good looks in transition, and the rout was on. Portland got down early in the third by as many as 24.
The Mice Find a Cookie
Midway through the third quarter, the Blazers started executing the plan that might have been in place since early in the second, but wasn’t paying dividends. Although size was a problem, Portland started putting pressure on the post entry passers, forcing the catch farther out from the key on post ups. That made Minnesota’s face up shots more difficult and gave the weak side defenders some time to help. Pat Connaughton rotated smartly, causing a lot of problems as a post defender.
Minnesota struggled to figure out what to do now that their game plan was altered. Portland took advantage with a 13-3 run. The Blazers created a few turnovers that led to some easy baskets, and their shots started to drop again. Portland battled back within 11, 71-82, on a Damian Lillard 3-pointer with 2:30 left in the third quarter.
That’s All She Wrote
Five minutes of game time later and the Blazers found themselves down big again. Minnesota spaced the floor and played the drive and kick game. Portland never found an answer. The Blazers couldn’t contain penetration, unable to slow the ball down once it got speed. Portland finally cut down the turnovers, but other than a kickout to Connaughton or a great individual effort by Lillard or McCollum, their offense pretty much stalled out to bad shots. The game was out of hand in the fourth and the benches finished the game.
High percentage shots are the currency of any good offense. Portland was never able to get good looks and the Wolves were getting everything they wanted tonight. The Blazers were able to find defensive solutions against the Minnesota post-up game but looked less than useless when it came to defending the drive.
Offensively, the Blazers looked sluggish. The odds are against winning an NBA game with 17 turnovers to 19 assists. Most of the shots the Blazers got were off-balance or well-defended. They never were able to get in a rhythm other than the short run in the third. Portland doesn't match up well against the Wolves but this was more about Portland not playing well than it was about any matchups. FInal games of long road trips can do that to a team. Lets hope that is all it was.
Pat Connaughton - He was the only player with meaningful minutes who played a good game. He shot a 4-5 clip from distance until a couple late misses, chipping in 18 points and some energy in his 29 minutes.
Damian Lillard - Lillard put up a great stat line with 21 points on 50% shooting with 8 assists and 6 rebounds. He did account for 6 turnovers. But overall, Lillard’s effect was muted for large portions of the game. He may still have some lingering health or conditioning concerns. Or maybe the long road trip caught up with him.
Al-Farouq Aminu - He was a bit of a circus offensively at times, but while the Wolves attacked every other Portland defender, they went out of their way to avoid him.
Jusuf Nurkic - Nurk only played 20 minutes tonight. He jumped on a Karl Anthony-Towns pump fake from the 3 point line and ended up fouling. He was basically replaced by Zach Collins for much of the game, most likely because of his lack of help-side defense. It was not a great matchup for Nurk, but it seems like a quick trigger to pull a guy that is the third leading scorer on the team. Nurk and the coaching staff need to find a way to get Nurk to stay on the court.
Shabazz Napier - Baz only played 12 minutes due to some tightness in his back. His absence was noticeable but even a healthy Napier wouldn’t have changed the outcome.
Meyers Leonard - He shot 4-4 with 8 points in 5 minutes. That’s why he makes the big bucks.
The Trail Blazers return home to face the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night at 7:00 PM.