The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves tonight behind 60 bench points and lights out shooting. Of the ten Portland players who suited up, none recorded fewer than seven points as the team converted 50-91 field goals and 15-30 three-pointers.
In addition to the exceptional shooting, Damian Lillard and Enes Kanter registered double-doubles. More impressively, Evan Turner one-upped them with a triple-double, attained with a few timely rebounds in the final minutes of the game. Fueled by the gaudy stat lines of those three, the Blazers recovered from a rough third quarter to beat the Timberwolves 132-122.
Jake Layman and Rodney Hood Swap
After the Blazers lost their first game since CJ McCollum’s injury in Detroit on Saturday night, Terry Stotts decided to swap Rodney Hood into the starting lineup for Jake Layman. A starting unit sans McCollum and now Jusuf Nurkic leaves Lillard as the only shot creator. Hood immediately demonstrated his ability to score independently by tallying 12 points in the first quarter alone.
Despite the new lineup surrounding him, Hood hunted his usual shots. He took advantage of the mismatch when Tyus Jones switched onto him and hit several midrange jumpers over the smaller defender. He also converted on open three-point attempts created by Lillard’s penetration, something Layman hasn’t done in his time as a starter. Hood finished with 21 points on 8-14 shooting and three triples.
Off the bench, Layman rejuvenated his energetic style of play that fueled Portland’s reserves earlier in the season. He drove past defenders off the dribble to finish at the rim or draw a foul, plus he knocked down a three-pointer for the first time in the last six games. Both wings benefited from the swap.
Evan Turner Shows Up
For the first time since 2015, Evan Turner recorded a triple-double, finishing with 13 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists in 25 minutes of action. As soon as he made a corner three-pointer in the second quarter - only his eighth triple of the season - everyone knew it was Turner’s night to shine.
Turner contributed to the Blazers offense in multiple ways. He found Lillard on the perimeter when the defense collapsed, then did the same with Curry. Of course, both of the guards knocked down their three-pointers. He also located cutters in transition, especially Zach Collins and Layman, for easy buckets at the rim.
Most importantly, he controlled a bench unit capable of losing big leads when the shots stop falling. Portland blew a double-digit lead in the third quarter, but the consistency of Turner’s midrange jumpers and accurate passes incited a run that rebuilt the lead in the final minutes of the game.
Center by Committee
Kanter, Collins and Meyers Leonard all have extra responsibility in the absence of Nurkic. Against the Timberwolves, the three big men played their specific roles sufficiently.
The Blazers shooting woes from Saturday’s game extended into today’s matchup early on, but Kanter kept the deficit small by collecting offensive rebounds and scoring on the second opportunity. He set strong screens for Lillard, who drained his usual three-pointers right around the pick. On the other end of the court, Kanter played solid defense on Karl-Anthony Towns despite Minnesota exploiting the matchup right away - he finished with five blocked shots, three were on Towns.
Collins quietly scored eight points on five approved shot attempts. He refrained from attempting too many three-pointers and capitalized on his opportunities at the rim. Like normal, Collins made his impact on the defensive end. He prevented Towns from any easy look at the rim and defended Anthony Tolliver on the perimeter well. The sophomore blocked two shots, one of which was a poster-attempt by Towns, to energize the reserve unit.
Leonard displayed aggressiveness on offense. When he caught a ball on the perimeter and his defender closed out, he attacked the basket and threw down two major dunks. He also punished defenders who didn’t close out by making his only three-point attempt. This dynamic offense will make Leonard a valuable asset come playoffs.
Rough Pick-and-Roll Defense
Minnesota staged a third-quarter comeback by abusing pick and rolls between Jones and Gorgui Dieng. Lillard constantly went over Dieng’s screen despite Jones missing his only three-point attempt of the game, which stranded Kanter or Leonard. On several consecutive possessions, Jones either made an uncontested layup or Dieng an uncontested elbow jumper.
Opponents with a pick-and-roll cast much better than Jones and Dieng will exploit Portland’s inability to defend it in the playoffs even more. The absence of Nurkic plays a major role in the team’s difficulty guarding the play type. Collins’ ability to defend in space can help stop the bleeding, but it certainly remains a major concern for the postseason.
The Blazers return home to face the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night at 7:00 PM, Pacific.