The Trail Blazers captured their second consecutive victory by edging past the Timberwolves in front of an energetic Moda Center crowd. Portland and Minnesota exchanged jabs for the majority of the night, but Damian Lillard’s stellar effort in the final minutes proved to be the difference. Along with Lillard’s late-game heroics, Jusuf Nurkic imposed his will throughout the contest. The sour taste from the Blazers’ recent struggles still lingers, but this type of performance was a clear step in the right direction for coach Terry Stotts’ squad.
KAT to the Bench
Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns lasted just three minutes into the opening frame before he was hit with two fouls. With Towns on the bench, Nurkic got in rhythm early. The big fella finished the first quarter with eight points and three assists. Due to Nurkic’s work on offense, the Blazers enjoyed a 18-8 points in the paint advantage after 12 minutes of action.
Towns eventually returned to deliver a 19-point, 10-rebound double-double. But the damage was already done for Minnesota. Nurkic has made a career out of feasting on confidence, and by the time the Wolves’ star big man returned, the Bosnian Beast already had plenty of it. As the game progressed, Nurkic’s timing on defense sharpened. He recorded four blocks and three steals in 29 minutes of action. Nurkic deserves the lion’s share of credit for Portland’s double-digit advantages in rebounding and points in the paint.
The Pitfalls of Sloppy Play
Despite enjoying advantages in several important categories, the Blazers nearly botched this victory by committing too many turnovers. They produced 20 turnovers, which prevented them from creating a comfortable lead through the first three quarters. With Robert Covington on the sidelines, Portland should have separated themselves from Minnesota. Instead, the Wolves hung around long enough to put together a stretch of strong play in the second half.
Slicing to the Rim
The Blazers offense was at its best when the sets started rolling early in possessions. Portland’s perimeter players moved with purpose without the ball, which created easy windows for willing passers. Each of the Blazers’ starters recorded multiple assists in the victory, with Lillard leading the way with six.
Along with the assist numbers, Harkless’ foul trouble likely prevented the entire starting five from reaching double-digits. Instead, four of the five starters crossed the double-digit threshold. If Portland can eliminate careless mistakes, the effort level displayed tonight will lead to big things on offense.
Evan Turner’s Big Buckets
Turner finished the night with just six points, but his production came at a crucial moment. Thanks to his timely fourth quarter offense, Minnesota’s attempt to build an early fourth quarter lead were thwarted. Along with six points, Turner finished with three assists and five rebounds.
It might be time for Jake Layman to shave his mustache. After a breakout game against the Suns, Layman struggled to get his three-point shot going. The former Maryland standout went 0-6 from beyond the arc in 15 minutes off the bench.
With under a minute remaining on the clock, CJ McCollum helped seal the victory with his third and final three-pointer of the night. He finished with 19 points, and committed just a single turnover.
The Blazers return to action on Tuesday with a trip to Houston to face the Rockets.
—Steve / @SteveDHoops / BEdgeSteve@gmail.com