The Portland Trail Blazers played Yukon Cornelius to the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Bumble on Monday night, bouncing the ‘Wolves in a 133-112 victory that was silver, gold, and peppermint all rolled into one. Damian Lillard led the team-wide effort to put away Minnesota midway through the third period, one of Portland’s easier wins of the season.
If you missed the action, you can read our quarter-by-quarter recap here. After that, here are other observations from the game.
Portland actually didn’t play an ideal game tonight. They missed a ton of threes. Their releases on other shots weren’t exactly pristine, perhaps looking at Rudy Gobert closing. They held the ball a titch too long on many possessions. Their defense was subpar. (Minnesota shot 50% from the floor and spent much of the game over 40% from the arc.) Damian Lillard erased ALL of that as a minor footnote. He needed two things: a half-assed screen and the ball. Given those, he spun gold out of straw to the tune of 38 points on 13-21 shooting, 11-17 from distance. He had 27 points at the half, shooting 8-10 from the arc. At times, he seemed determined to break Clyde Drexler’s all-time franchise scoring mark TONIGHT, though he’s still 100 or so points away. He didn’t quite do that, but he did tie a career high with those 11 threes made.
Jusuf Nurkic started this game loaded for Gobert. He rebounded hard, attempted a couple threes, and drove the lane. The threes didn’t fall, so he laid off of them. The driving and generally aggressive mindset continued. The Blazers ended up going with Drew Eubanks for big stretches, because he provided even more quickness and mobility while being able to set the same, relatively-solid screens Nurkic provided. Eubanks rewarded the Blazers nicely too. But aggressive Nurk is usually good Nurk, and that was so tonight.
Nurkic provided 14 points and 16 rebounds in 25 minutes, Eubanks 6 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 blocks (including a stunner on Rudy Gobert) in 17 minutes.
The Trail Blazers are less reliant on three-pointers this year than they have been in years past, but when they actually hit their triples, they become very, very hard to beat. Minnesota didn’t have too much trouble scoring tonight, but every time they did, it seemed that Lillard and the Blazers hit another three-pointer, taking the sting out of Minny’s buckets. It’s super hard to catch up when you hit two shots, the other team hits one, yet you’ve only regained a single point on the scoreboard. Portland shot 21-46, 45.7% from distance tonight, a huge factor. Seven players hit at least one triple.
Passing Out of Physicality
The Timberwolves came into this game attempting to be more physical with the Blazers. Typically, Portland will drive into the teeth of rough-and-tumble defense, drawing contact and getting to the line. They took the opposite course tonight. When bigger ‘Wolves players closed on the ball, Portland passed it before they could get a tight seal or contact. It ended up looking like a game of keep-away between adults and 8-year-olds. The same size that threatened as the Timberwolves trapped prevented them from recovering when that trap didn’t work. They ended up bumping players where the ball used to be as the Blazers drove or sunk shots around them.
High Screens, No Rolls
Portland had a pretty good strategy on screen plays tonight. They threw the pick with the center, way out high. But the pick-setter seldom rolled to the middle. This left the lane clear of offensive players and Goberts alike. It also put a ton of pressure on the dribble defender to make it around the now longer-lasting screen...which the ‘Wolves seldom did. That left Portland’s shooters wide open on the perimeter, the results of which you heard about a couple sections above.
On the one hand, Portland’s centers are most effective when making that roll. On the other, sacrificing it took the teeth out of Minnesota’s defense as the cost of Portland’s fourth option and...whatever Drew Eubanks is. And hey, like we said above, both pivots performed just fine. It was a nice touch against this opponent.
The Blazers won the battle of the boards tonight 43-30, including 11-7 on the offensive glass. That’s a pretty good indicator of how desperately this game collapsed for the T-Wolves. Dominant lane control added hot sauce to the victory burrito, when you consider how the Blazers feasted from the perimeter in addition.
The Blazers also dominated on fast-break points, which technically should have been Minnesota’s advantage. Instead the tally read 24-17, Portland, and that despite the Blazers ceding 19 turnovers to the opponent. It just wasn’t fair.
Simons Still Ouchy
Not to cast a pall on the proceedings, but folks waiting for Anfernee Simons to snap out of his slump will need to wait a bit longer. Simons shot 5-13, 2-8 from distance for 12 points in 33 minutes. He did have 6 assists though!
Easy Does It
Finally...finally! The Blazers actually stretched out a lead, then extended it, then kept it through the final period. This allowed them to get their starters some rest. It also allowed the raucous Moda Center crowd to party through the fourth quarter instead of biting their fingernails.
The Blazers now head out on a six-game road trip that will take them up to Christmas. It starts in San Antonio on Wednesday night with a 5:00, Pacific start.