The Wolves had a disappointing start to the season, but have played better as of late, even without Karl-Anthony Towns, who will miss at least a month with a calf strain.
Damian Lillard didn’t have the best shooting night (9-22) but was a perfect 15-15 from the foul line and finished with a game-high 36 points to go along with 8 assists and 2 steals. Anfernee Simons added 31 points in a fantastic response to his worst game of the season, coming out victorious in the “Battle of ‘Ants’” against the Wolves’ Anthony Edwards, who finished with 26 points.
The Blazers were determined to get Simons involved with the offense early and he was able to deliver. Simons got Portland on the board with a dunk off a set out of bounds play and followed it up with an angle three a couple trips later. It was needed, as both sides were eager to let the long ball fly despite meager results. Jusuf Nurkic and Jaden McDaniels traded a pair of misses and nearly midway through the period Minnesota held only a minuscule 9-7 advantage.
After Simons went to the bench, it was Lillard’s turn to take over as thorn in the Wolves’ paw. Although he started 0-3 from deep, Dame was an effective driver getting into the teeth of the defense and did most of his damage from the foul line. Lillard was a perfect 7-7 from the charity stripe in the quarter and finished with 11 points, keeping the Blazers paced as the Wolves started to heat up.
Drew Eubanks found himself the recipient of a couple Lillard dimes to set up easy dunks, but Naz Reid answered them right back with mid-range buckets, as the reserves essentially played to a standstill.
A couple more freebies followed by an acrobatic and-1 circus shot from Lillard in the final minute was the difference maker, giving Portland a 32-27 lead after one.
Upon his return, Simons continued to be the guy for the Blazers, as he and Jerami Grant combined to score the first 15 points in the quarter for the home team. Simons just looked to have some extra pep in his step as he darted around picks and shot the ball with confidence, converting a beautiful running floater in the lane followed by back-to-back no hesitation threes.
Anthony Edwards had the answer at the other end, knocking down a pair of triples of his own, and along with D’Angelo Russell started to get the Minnesota offense rolling. Two threes from Russell briefly pulled the Wolves within 2 at 49-47 midway through the period, and following a Portland timeout that momentum only continued to build.
A one-handed alley-oop dunk from Shaedon Sharpe brought the crowd to its feet but the enthusiasm was quickly deflated by back-to-back easy buckets at the rim from Reid and Edwards, the latter giving Minnesota its first lead of the quarter.
More free throws from Dame helped stop the bleeding, but the Wolves were able to hold on to a 66-65 lead heading into the break.
For most of the period, Portland was stuck playing catch-up with Edwards, which at times must have felt like stopping a bulldozer with tissue paper. Long and built like a middle linebacker with a crossover dribble, Edwards is a load and then some, and when he decides to put his head down and attack the basket, is very difficult to slow down. On nights where his outside shot is falling, as it was tonight, that task becomes even more daunting. He had 13 points in the the third as the Wolves slowly grew their lead to as much as 10 points with 5 minutes remaining.
But a furious end the quarter saw the Blazers close the gap behind Lillard, Drew Eubanks and, yes, more free throws. A tomahawk jam from Eubanks over Rudy Gobert off a nifty pass from Dame with 14 seconds remaining regained the lead for Portland at 94-92 and set the table for a tightly contested final frame.
Simons continued to keep it rolling to begin the fourth, converting on a running floater to open the period and then sweeping through the lane for a Kareem-like sky-hook that extended the Blazers’ lead to 8 at 105-97.
Minnesota countered by forcing the ball to Gobert down low, who was able to use his Gumby-like length to beat Nurkic one-on-one, but at this point the Wolves needed more than hard-earned twos.
A contested straightaway three from Lillard was the play of the game, giving Portland a 118-113 lead with two and a half minutes remaining that they would never relinquish. From there, the Blazers were able to milk the clock and play the free throw game to hold on and seize victory.
Stay tuned for our extended recap coming soon!
The Blazers will get another home rematch against the Wolves Monday evening 7 p.m. Pacific.