The Portland Trail Blazers have had trouble handling the Minnesota Timberwolves this season. The talent disparity between the teams isn’t much. Expectations for each were roughly equal. Minnesota just appeared to have Portland’s number...until tonight. Newly-minted All-Star Damian Lillard and his backcourt partner CJ McCollum were having nothing to do with a loss. Al-Farouq Aminu and Pat Connaughton made strong cases for Best Supporting Actors. Without Jimmy Butler, the Timberwolves couldn’t contain Portland’s offense and crumbled in front of a surprisingly strong Blazers defensive stand. The result was a rare second-half blowout for Portland, a happy 123-114 win.
And they’re off!
From the tip, the pace of the game was all an NBA fan could want. Both offenses were getting good shots early and there wasn't even a foul called until a minute left in the first. The absence of Jimmy Butler was supposed to be a huge disadvantage for Minnesota, but the Wolves had other plans, hitting on 11 of the their first 15 shots. Andrew Wiggins, thriving outside of Butler’s shadow, got anywhere he wanted to on the floor.
Portland’s offense also got in a flow early and continually found good looks. Jusuf Nurkic, who left in the first with an apparent shoulder/arm injury, was unable to capitalize on a few crafty interior passes, but the overall opportunities were all an offense could ask for. The Timberwolves led 29-25 after the first.
There’s that man again
Jamal Crawford needs no introduction to Blazer fans. He continued to be a thorn in Portland’s side, dropping 12 of the first 18 points for the ‘Wolves in the second quarter. Portland’s bench responded with great energy on the defensive end. Ed Davis made his presence felt, corralling 3 offensive rebounds and tipping out a few more in just 9 first half minutes.
The North Star Shinning Bright
All-Star Damian Lillard carried the bulk of the Blazers offensive load in the first half, and he did it all from the outside. He took just one shot from within 20 feet, but he was hitting his long twos and went 3-6 from three-point land. He led the Blazers with 18 at the half, while CJ McCollum chipped in 11 as the two teams entered halftime tied at 54.
The Show Goes On
The Blazers’ defense progressed as the game went on and by the third quarter, it was good enough to provide offense. The energy reached a new level. They started doubling the posts and flying out to shooters, causing mayhem. They were getting stops, grabbing lose balls, and running. The momentum carried over to the offensive end. The Blazers hit 6 threes in the third, scoring a season high 43 points in the quarter. The crowd got into it, as the Blazers led by as many as 14 in the third. They finished the period up 97-84.
Get Your Popcorn Ready
Reverse alley-oop to Connaughton, baseline reverse dunk by Connaughton, one handed punch-in by Davis, Connaughton again with the two handed oop. In the fourth period the Blazers put on a show with a barrage of dunks and threes, playing some of their highest-level basketball of the season. The 123-114 victory was Portland’s reward for commanding the game the entire second half.
Two thumbs up
Minnesota may have been missing one of their best players in Butler, but this was a terrific win for the Blazers. The offense looked locked in. Their ball movement was as good as it’s been in a while, producing the looks they wanted for the guys they wanted. Their shooters capitalized. Andrew Wiggins was terrific individually, but as a whole, the Blazers got after it defensively and made the ‘Wolves look uncomfortable from midway through the second period onward. The Blazers bench deserves a lot of credit for the impact they made on this game. Ed Davis, Zach Collins, and Pat Connaughton have their fingerprints all over this win.
Damian Lillard - It looks like “All-Star Dame” is just as good as “Chip on his shoulder Dame” who usually dominates after being snubbed from All-Star rosters. Lillard was phenomenal tonight. His shot was on target, but 6 assists and 0 turnovers were indicative of the other good things he did on the court. His passing looked sharp and on point.
CJ McCollum - CJ went 12-20 from the floor, 4-5 from three, with 5 assists and zero turnovers, and I’ve barely mentioned him. When Lillard was off the floor, CJ became the general. He shot the three-ball well, but did damage on the drive and at the rim. On a normal day, his night would have been the best of anyone on the floor.
Ed Davis and Zach Collins - These two are starting to really find a rhythm together and its feeling like it could turn into something special. They looked to find each other a few times on interior passes and defensively, changing the game. Combined they finished 7-8 with 19 points, 15 rebounds, and a +20 plus/minus. A quiet night from Nurkic was hardly noticeable with this combo playing as well as they did.
Pat Connaughton - Connaughton’s personal highlight tape just became more impressive. His dunks were entertaining, but both of his threes and all three of his dunks were created by incredible movement. He is harder to guard without the ball than with it...a skill in its own right. Only a handful of players in the NBA can make that claim. Tonight it was on full display.
Al Farouq Aminu - Defensively, Chief took on Minnesota All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns for most of the game, limiting KAT’s impact. Aminu denied him good position on the catch, even picking one pass that he took in for a dunk. He also kept Towns from becoming an asset on the boards. Offensively, Aminu took advantage of open threes, shooting 3 of 4 from deep. He capitalized with a great finish in traffic on the break. This was a nice bounce back-game for him.
Canis Hoopus has nothing to howl about tonight.
The Blazers take on the Dallas Mavericks once again at 5:30 Pacific on Friday night.
Time is running out to donate tickets to kids for Blazer’s Edge Night.
Please follow the link below and help us complete the journey to sending 2000 kids to see the Blazers play the Sacramento Kings on February 27th.