The Portland Trail Blazers ended the game sizzling, as Damian Lillard and Anfernee Simons combined for 67 points to topple the Minnesota Timberwolves at home on Saturday night. In a game that saw man defenses exclusively from both sides, each teams had their share of highs and lows, as the victory came down to the wire.
Five Blazers scored in double figures, and their bench curtain-called the night with a +38 plus/minus. They ruled the roost on the glass from whistle to whistle, and cashed in on their opportunities at the charity stripe with efficiency.
The Wolves were without their superstar player in Karl-Anthony Towns, and felt his absence, though their present big three of Anthony Edwards, D’Angelo Russell, and Rudy Gobert all went for 24 or more points. Only three of their players notched buckets from distance, an archaic tune for a team that just a season ago was the most formidable offensive team in the league by the numbers.
If you haven’t done so, check out our instant recap from Ryan Rosback, which goes into the play-by-play of tonights contest with detail.
Damian Lillard’s Fingerprints
Some of his impact shows up on the stat sheet. Some of it does not. Nevertheless, Damian Lillard utterly dominated the first quarter. He played all 12 minutes — the only player on either team to do so — and had a high usage rate. Whether he was dishing lead passes to Jusuf Nurkic and Drew Eubanks for easy points in the paint off of the pick-and-roll, or weaving through the defense and tapping into his layup package, Lillard was the main facilitator of the offense. He had the highest plus/minus of all Blazers starters and drew foul after foul, making it to the charity stripe seven times. He averages 8.1 attempts for the season. His aggression was infectious and translated to the Blazers’ tenacity on the boards.
Blazers Body the Boards
Jusuf Nurkic had seven boards eight minutes into the game. That was more than the entire Timberwolves team, who had five. For the first quarter, they won the battle of the glass 15-8, almost doubling up Minnesota. There was one sequence where the Blazers won two consecutive offensive rebounds, translating such workhorse effort into a third-chance opportunity that Trendon Watford converted, with a smooth layup high off the glass.
In the second, the Blazers got three offensive rebounds on three consecutive possessions, that led to six points on the scoreboard. Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch took Rudy Gobert out for a few moments, before Nurkic ran amuck, forcing his hand to place him back in the game, which was to no avail. Why was Portland so successful on the glass? For one, the absence of Karl-Anthony Towns who averages 8.2 rebounds on the season, took away one of Minnesota’s best glass eaters. Aside from that, Portland just looked more energized and tenacious, as they channeled their inner Tyson Chandler, batting out many rebounds they couldn’t corral on the offensive side for additional opportunities.
Anfernee Being Anfernee
If Lillard and Simons were running a relay, they would’ve had the most seamless baton handoff from the first leg to the second. Simons came in doing what he has done all season, and that is get red hot from deep. He had 10, yes 10 points in the first four minutes of the second and was doing it in a variety of ways. Screens would usually come on the weak side of the floor, which Simons would use, curling off of the pick when off the ball to free himself for a look from the top of the key, or running his defender into the pick when on the ball.
Per usual, there was too much air space given to the opposing teams’ wings, pertaining to the Blazers. Both teams were going over on all screens out of the half. For Minnesota, Gobert would sit at the free throw line, or at most, at the top of the key. Simons would exploit this by coming off the screen, and crossing over or using a finesse move, gaining head speed going downhill and finishing over the taller defender. The Wolves also opted to keep McDaniels on Lillard. As a result of Harts two threes in the first half, Kyle Anderson refrained from sagging off as he did in the first 24 minutes of play.
For Portland, they played Russell and Edwards straight up. Bad news. Both combined for three 3-pointers, and a fourth long ball that was a foot off from being counted as a trey, to set the tone for the third. Rip City’s defensive intensity picked up later in the quarter, as they went on a 14-3 run to end the third and take a two-point lead.
Rough Night for Shaedon
Shaedon Sharpe notched a highlight dunk but his night was uneven otherwise. Another highlight dunk went south as he took off too soon and botched the attempt. Later in the game he was called for a travel. On a couple occasions he jumped too early for the rebound, and was sent flailing. He had five points, four rebounds, and a 1:1 assist to turnover ratio, though to his credit, he had the greatest plus/minus on the team with a +18 effort.
The Dualistic Impact of Rudy Gobert
Throughout the contest, Rudy Gobert didn’t look like the three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year that he usually looks like. On the defensive end, he was letting Eubanks dunk all over him, and allowing the Blazers’ backcourt to take him to the “baja.” Plus, a crucial offensive foul off of an illegal screen robbed his team of any final surge they hoped to execute.
Though, on offense, Gobert was a menace. That’s what happens when you over-commit to the ball handler in option plays. Granted, Russell was fresh off of a 30 point performance a game prior, on 75 percent shooting, so the Blazers probably came in to the matchup with the mindset of showing hard off the pick. Yet, Russell is known as a patient playmaker off of the screen-and-roll, who fancies keeping the defender on his hip, and buying enough time to rise up for a floater or 15 foot jump shot.
No matter, Gobert was found many times for lobs and easy dunks, leading to his 24 points on 9-11 shooting, a number whopping even by his uber efficient standards. It’s rare to see, but Gobert’s impact was felt on offense much more than defense tonight, which is a major reason why his team didn’t pull away with the victory.
Team Effort Brings it Home
Simple and plain, the Blazers started moving the ball more in the fourth. More players got their hands on the rock, and it correlated with the outcome of the game. Six Blazers scored in the quarter, and defense led to offense, stopping any last ditch efforts Minnesota had to upset Portland. Jerami Grant must also be applauded for his defensive efforts. He got stops on Anthony Edwards when it mattered most.
This was a hard-nosed win against a tough Minnesota Timberwolves team. It was great for morale, especially after their toughest loss of the season against the Denver Nuggets a game prior. Next on the itinerary is a rematch with the Wolves at 7:00 PM, Pacific on Monday.