The final game of this road-trip made a stop to the Target Center in Minneapolis as the Portland Trail Blazers (22-5), hours after Damian Lillard hit his second-game winner in Cleveland, played the first game of the year against Kevin Love and the Timberwolves (13-13). The Blazers all-time had been 21-2 against their divisional foe and swept the Wolves last season. As last night was a great battle between Lillard and Kyrie Irving, tonight was the anticipated matchup of two of the top power-forwards in the league: Love and LaMarcus Aldridge.
Coming in tonight on the fourth game in five nights, it was clear right from the start the Blazers had heavy legs while the Wolves were running loose, wild and free. Portland falls behind in the first half to as many as 32-points and spends the rest of the game clawing back. They once again have a tremendous third-quarter to make it a single-digit game, but the combo punch of Love and Nikola Pekovic was too much, and the Blazers fall 120-109 and 3-1 for the trip.
Minnesota’s game is all about feasting on points in the paint through Love/Pekovic and forcing turnovers. The Blazers fell right into that trap as defensively they stood around and watched Pekovic bulldoze his way inside, Love would hit a couple three-pointers and Ricky Rubio is poking pockets for easy transition buckets. Minnesota at one point had scored 18 of their first 20 points inside the paint. The Wolves shoot 67% compared to 39% for the Blazers who see all their outside shots roll out and are just short. Kevin Martin creates a Blazer turnover and scores a three-point play to end the first and the Wolves are up 31-22.
Minnesota opens the second scoring on another three-point play off another Blazer turnover. The Wolves dance inside the paint for easy buckets while nothing is going Portland’s way. The Blazers look lost on defense and three-point shots from Love and JJ Barea extend the Wolves lead to 19. Barea finds Dante Cunningham for the alley-oop slam in transition and now it’s a 21 lead. Alexey Shved dunks, Portland’s shooting percentage slides to 34% and wham – the Wolves are up 69-43 in a flash. Meyers Leonard comes into the game and it was a matter of time before coach Stotts would wave the white flag.
If you have been watching any Blazers game this season you know how good Portland is at making the halftime adjustment and killing teams in the second half. Just like that, three-point shots are falling for the Blazers and Minnesota freaks, Pekovic picks up his fourth foul, while Lillard goes off, scoring 17 points in the quarter, mounting a comeback that was now a 12-point game. The closet the Blazers got was 10 after Joel Freeland buckets a second-chance opportunity, but Barea drills two three-point shots and a 9-0 run late to put the Wolves back up 96-78.
A minute of the fourth goes by and Love makes a three and the lead is back up 101-78. Mo Williams who started the game 0-4 from the field has a nice spark and goes 4-5 but the Wolves respond back. Wesley Matthews connects from downtown to cut lead now to 105-90 with eight minutes left and the Target Center is getting a little antsy. Lillard wouldn’t let this game get away that easily and takes charge the entire rest of the way; hits two three-point shots, gets to the foul line and holy crap – we’re looking at 114-106 with 49 seconds left. Nicolas Batum converts five quick points and it’s a five-point game! The Wolves proceed to steal on the next Blazer possession and Portland has no choice but to foul and the comeback falls short.
Who was Hot
- The only positive Blazer tonight again is Damian Lillard who put the team on his back yet again in the second half. He wouldn’t go away, and as the seconds ticked down he’s still banking in deep threes without thinking, even touching the midcourt decal like he did previously in Cleveland. He scores 30+ points in back-to-back games for the first time in his young career, finishing with 36 points, six rebounds, six assists, three steals and 7-14 from distance.
- Nicolas Batum was the second-leading Blazer in scoring with 20 points, six rebounds, three assists and two blocks but had five turnovers. Each was careless and even had one go right between his legs from Rubio on an outlet transition bucket to Kevin Martin.
- Nikola Pekovic was in his zone tonight and was a monster inside. No one could stop him, and gladly chewed up Leonard and spit him out for those five minutes. He was just one point shy of tying his career-high in points, but has 30 points, nine rebounds on 14-19 makes under the basket.
- Kevin Love wins Round 1 of the 2013-14 season against Aldridge with a 29-point, 15 rebound, and nine-assist performance. He flirted with a triple-double midway through the second quarter and goes 4-7 from deep on 10-18 makes.
Who Was NOT
- Let’s not frown on LaMarcus Aldridge completely, the guy looked tired and all of his 7-22 makes from the floor didn’t have air underneath it and looked flat. His 15 points, 14 rebounds isn’t something to feel bad about but you know he’s not happy that Love dominated him tonight.
- The Blazer bench did little next to nothing. Aside from nine points from Mo Williams he did attempt 4-11 shots and was 1-5 from three. Dorell Wright had five points, Joel Freeland had four and Thomas Robinson had two.
- Rebounds: Minnesota 53 – Portland 45
- Assists: Minnesota 27 – Portland 19
- Steals: Minnesota 8 – Portland 5
- Fast break points: Minnesota 20 – Portland 9
- Points in paint: Minnesota 72 – Portland 34
Let’s not fret on this too much. Although playing four games in five nights isn’t the prime excuse to use, it’s the NBA and we’re bound to lose games at some points. The best thing is the Blazers can go home to their own beds and have a two-day break before playing the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday.