The Portland Trail Blazers and Minnesota Timberwolves played a sloppy, offensively-sporadic game on Tuesday night at the Moda Center. Normally-sure scorers Anfernee Simons and CJ McCollum were shooting wonky. Karl-Anthony Towns also looked loopy for the Timberwolves. The result was an up-and-down, turnover-intensive affair that saw both teams take leads, then fumble them away.
Amid the muck, Timberwolves forward Anthony Edwards stepped up, scoring 40 points, including several in the back-and-forth final period, leading his team to a 109-107 victory. Jusuf Nurkic and Nassir Little each scored 20 to lead the Blazers. Nurkic added 14 rebounds in the loss.
The Blazers started the game slow, with Anfernee Simons, in particular, struggling to get his shot on line. The ‘Wolves didn’t do much better, shooting as hot as a North Pole Slurpee. But Minnesota dominated the offensive glass, getting enough shots that eventually one or two would fall. Jusuf Nurkic had a rough start, getting three layups blocked and committing two personal fouls in the opening five minutes.
Portland solved their dilemma mid-quarter by playing faster, running the ball past the plodding T-Wolves and taking the first open shot. Quick-strike scoring took them from down three to up five in the blink of an eye. Minnesota still wasn’t hitting anything. They seemed confused by Portland switching into and out of zone defense. Turnovers helped the Blazers play even faster. They led 20-15 when Minnesota took a “Wait a Minute” timeout with 3:38 remaining.
The timeout didn’t work entirely. Portland continued to score at a nice clip as the quarter closed. Minnesota managed to hit enough threes to keep afloat. It’s not like their offense was working great. They just stroked a couple in between turnovers and bricks. Portland saved the period with the tempo change, leading 29-26 after one.
Portland started cooking in earnest as the second period started. Every shot was a layup or a three, and they generally fell. Ben McLemore canned a couple of deep shots, the wings scored at the cup or got fouled...it was big time offense. If Portland had a flaw, it was protecting the rim at the other end. Minnesota drove with relative impunity, with the barest of action creating a lane and a score. A couple of sloppy turnovers from Portland and a couple of threes falling for the ‘Wolves made the margin more reasonable, but barely. Portland was up 46-39 at the 7:00 mark of the second.
During the middle minutes of the quarter, the Timberwolves engaged in a puzzling defensive strategy of not guarding Portland shooters beyond the arc. Under those circumstances, the Blazers couldn’t miss. Literally. They hit their first five threes in the period. The ‘Wolves weren’t closing the deficit under those circumstances no matter what they did. With Minnesota treating offense like it was the crush at their Middle School dance, Portland opened up a double-digit edge.
The first unit continued scoring, but their defense let up just before the half, letting Minnesota score inside and deep. They still led by a solid 63-55 score at the half.
Both teams’ offense went to heck again at the start of the third. It was like watching kids trying to draw pictures of a cow when they’d never seen one. Like...parts of that look familiar, but geez. Simons kept the Blazers alive with a couple buckets, but even he was rattling shots in and out. But Minnesota was SO BAD, every simple pass looked like an outer-space circus.
The big asterisk came at the end of the third, In a compact, 90-second furry, the ‘Wolves went on an 8-0 run. In the middle of a scoring desert, that brought them right back. There was no rhyme or reason to it. They just scored half of their overall points in the final two minutes, while Portland remained dry as a bone. Minnesota led 84-82 after three.
The early parts of the fourth quarter continued the theme of the game: sloppy play, filled with turnovers, punctuated by the occasional nice shot. The Blazers took a shot when Jusuf Nurkic picked up his fifth foul early in the period. They took another, rougher one when Nassir Little, one of the only Blazers playing well, left the game with 8:00 remaining with a shoulder injury. Baaaaadddd things started to happen at that point. Anthony Edwards, who had been producing pretty well, caught fire. The Blazers couldn’t buy a bucket with Jeff Bezos’ Visa, even when left wide open from the arc. When D’Angelo Russell and the heretofore-inconsistent Karl-Anthony Towns joined in, the Blazers were in trouble.
The big asterisk was, no matter how much Minnesota scored, the separation remained small. 7 points seemed like 20, but it was still only 7. The Blazers still had a chance. That chance was buoyed when Little returned from the locker room, apparently unfazed.
Neither Little nor any of his teammates were stopping Edwards once he got on a roll, though. He hit jumper after jumper, converting dunks and layups as well.
As soon as the game got threatened, the Blazers came alive. Their defense picked up and they started running plays that they hadn’t been for a while. Nurkic controlled the offense, helping teammates with picks when he wasn’t catching it. Portland stayed within 4 with a minute remaining, getting it to 2 off of free throws a play later. With Minnesota turning over the ball, they had a chance to tie or take the lead. Robert Covington had a layup in traffic, but overshot. With the clock now below 24 seconds, Portland had to foul intentionally. A make and a miss from Minny left them down 3.
After a relatively quiet game, CJ McCollum stepped to the fore, canning a Lillard-deep three-pointer with 10 seconds remaining, tying the game at 107.
The ‘Wolves inbounded to Russell. Anfernee Simons was on him. Russell made hash of Simons, getting a clean layup attempt. Simons goaltended it off the glass, but that still counted as two points. The Timberwolves led 109-107 with 2.9 remaining.
The game ended as it had begun, with Simons shooting way wide on a three. A rebound by Nurkic went unrewarded as his possibly-fouled attempt at the horn went astray, and that was the ballgame.
Stay tuned for extended analysis of the game, coming soon!
The Blazers welcome the Dallas Mavericks tomorrow night at 8:00 PM, Pacific.