The Portland Trail Blazers fell 109-107 to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night, succumbing to a 40-point outing from T-Wolves star Anthony Edwards in a game where that was almost the only thing to go right for either team.
If you missed the action, you can find our quarter-by-quarter recap here. Beyond that, let’s just say this was a weird game. Hot streaks were brief. Mush and muck were everywhere. It was like watching ballet in a pig sty. That’s a pretty move, but watch the splash. As such, it’s hard to draw conclusions. If anything, the old coach’s saw, “They just missed open shots,” ruled the day. The Blazers had great looks, ones they normally convert in their sleep. At the arc, at the cup, they fumbled both. They ended up 39.4% from the field against defense that wasn’t good. Had they been normal, they would have won.
Here are a few other observations. How enduring they will be is up to the beholder.
In Search of a Star
Nassir Little and Jusuf Nurkic had really good outings, each scoring 20, Little shooting 7-11, Nurkic adding 14 rebounds and 4 assists. But the Blazers spent the night in search of a star to carry them through their frequent rough patches. Both CJ McCollum and Anfernee Simons tried, but neither could hold the seat for long. Simons, in particular, struggled with otherwise-routine shots, finishing 4-13 from the arc during a 5-18 night overall. He also allowed the game-winning bucket. McCollum hit a big three-pointer to tie the game late but shot just 5-15 overall.
Minnesota found their star in Edwards. Ultimately, that was the huge difference in the fourth period, and thus in the game.
Turnovers and Offensive Rebounds
Two factors ping-ponged between the teams, serving as indicators of how well the game was going for each. The Timberwolves committed 15 turnovers, Portland 14. That doesn’t seem like an excessive amount, but it was Keystone Cops time out there. Passes took enough vectors to fill a Geometry textbook, then nobody at the end held onto the ball anyway. Minnesota started the ridiculousness, but the Blazers participated full-force when coughing up their second-half lead. It almost seemed like these teams were just being introduced to the concept of basketball.
Offensive rebounds were the other factor. The Blazers dominated early, finishing the game with 15. Minnesota had 11, catching up as the game progressed. Whichever team was streaking found the ball in their hands. The losing team couldn’t find a rebound to save their lives.
The Blazers looked shaky in the halfcourt during large portions of this game. They solved the problem for brief stretches by getting the ball up the floor quicker, thinking less and shooting more, often before the defense was set up. Decent defense allowed them to pursue the strategy. They played actively in the passing lanes and got up tight against shooters, perhaps knowing the the Timberwolves weren’t a threat to drive by them with blinding speed. Once the rebound was secured, Portland ran. Not trotted. Not jogged. They ran. They didn’t fast break, but the early offense was plenty successful anyway.
There’s a big difference between these players—particularly the ones who aren’t used to big minutes—thinking their way through the offense and just playing instinctively. Coach Chauncey Billups and the players seem to have come to a middle ground on that issue. When a player is in his zone and open, the shots are coming without hesitation. That’s a good thing.
Ben McLemore continues to be a real weapon from the arc. Tonight he shot 3-5 from distance, leading the bench with 9 points. That’s not an overwhelming amount, but he’s what the Blazers have right now and he’s making good.
The Blazers welcome the Dallas Mavericks tomorrow night at 8:00 PM, Pacific.