The Trail Blazers bounced back from Tuesday’s disappointing loss with a blowout victory over the Timberwolves. Buoyed by a 39-point performance from Damian Lillard, coach Terry Stotts’ squad cruised to a 135-117 victory. Outside of Lillard, CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic combined for 37 points against the Wolves’ porous defense.
It was a much-needed win for the Blazers after a noteworthy stumble against the Bulls earlier in the week. Here is a second look at Dame’s big night against the Wolves.
Contrasting styles and cold shooting from the field took center stage early in the opening frame. The Blazers connected on just one field goal in the first four minutes of action. The Wolves, who utilize a quicker pace on offense, found D’Angelo Russell’s hot hand early and often. Working primarily off the ball, the former Lakers guard connected on his first five shots from the field and recorded 11 points in the first quarter.
The Blazers managed to keep pace with the Wolves thanks to Lillard’s determination on the offensive end. Lillard made it a point to get to his spots and he was rewarded with frequent trips to the free throw line as his defender scrambled in his wake. The Blazers converted just one of their nine three-pointers in the first 12 minutes, but Lillard’s 15-point frame held the Wolves’ lead to a single point. Led by Russell, Minnesota clung to a 29-28 lead after one.
The Blazers enjoyed a complete reversal of three-point fortunes in the second quarter. McCollum and Carmelo Anthony got the action rolling for Portland with a pair of early three-pointers that erased the Wolves’ lead. The Blazers’ offense received a boost from a sloppy run of possessions from Minnesota’s second unit. On the break and in half-court sets, everything was clicking for the Blazers. Melo, when he wasn’t connecting on his own attempts, did a superb job of finding open shooters. In transition, he threaded the needle with a halfcourt pass to Gary Trent Jr. that resulted in an open shot. He followed up that look with a smooth pass to McCollum as the former Lehigh standout curled around an off-ball screen for a three-pointer.
In the final six minutes, with the Wolves focused on slowing doing the Blazers’ three-point barrage, Nurkic feasted inside the arc. The big fella cleared out space on pick-and-roll sets and finished with ease at the rim. As a team, the Blazers went 8-10 from distance in the quarter. Individually, Nurkic recorded 10 points and Lillard added 11 of his own as Portland completed its first 70-point first half of the season. The Blazers headed to the locker room with a sturdy 75-56 lead.
Fueled by the Wolves’ haphazard defensive scheme, the Blazers continued to generate points with little resistance. Following a scoreless first half, Derrick Jones Jr. eliminated the zero in his points column with a corner three-pointer. Thanks to powerful and decisive movements, the former Heat forward quickly added six more points in the paint. In a desperate search for a solution, the Wolves alternated between zone-like schemes and traditional man-to-man coverage. Both approaches fell flat as the Blazers put 36 points on the board in the third quarter. With the Blazers out in front with a 31-point lead, Lillard and the rest of the starters exited the game at the break.
The Blazers turned to their deep bench in the final quarter. Nassir Little, who battled COVID-19 earlier in the season, logged his first minutes of action. Little’s feel-good return was not the only interesting part of the fourth quarter, though. The Wolves slowly got within 20 points of the Blazers and flirted with pushing the comeback attempt even further. Luckily for the Blazers, Anfernee Simons put together a string of strong possessions at the midpoint of the quarter—securing Portland’s advantage. Regardless of a slight scare, the Blazers finished with a decisive 135-117 win.
It was clear from the opening tip that Lillard was set on rinsing out the foul taste of Tuesday’s loss. He was assertive from the opening tip and sought out the type of contact that officials can’t overlook. Once in rhythm, Lillard and McCollum flawlessly played off each other. On and off the ball, Lillard stepped into his shots comfortably and glided around screens. It is rare that an opponent rolls out the carpet to all his comfort zones. Woof. The Wolves’ defense was bad. With the green light on, Lillard made the most of it.
In just three quarters, Lillard produced 39 points on 21 attempts from the field. Outside of his scoring, he added seven assists and seven rebounds. Yes, this game was against a team with a non-existent defense, but Dame’s dominance was established before the score got out of hand.
Look. It probably isn’t wise to get too excited about how good the Blazers looked on offense against the Wolves. That said, there were signs of life from Portland’s forward rotation on the offensive end. Robert Covington pulled off an excellent sequence in the third quarter after Lillard avoided a trap by dumping the ball off to him. Covington quickly turned, evaluated the defense and found McCollum for an open three-pointer. Melo produced a set of similar sequences as a facilitator in the first half. Jones, who is still searching for a lob partner, overcame a silent first half to put nine points on the board in third quarter. Even when you take into account how bad the Wolves looked, it was encouraging to see that trio make a positive impact on offense.
Deep Bench Recognition
The fourth quarter produced a few tense moments as the Blazers’ 30-point lead was nearly cut in half. But Portland’s youngsters managed to hold off Minnesota when it mattered. Simons and Trent both connected on big shots that pushed the Blazers’ lead back to 20. Late in the game, Nassir Little and CJ Elleby made plays while moving downhill towards the basket.
The Blazers return to action on Saturday with a trip to Sacramento to face the Kings.