The Portland Trail Blazers played Yukon Cornelius against the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Bumble on Monday night, rebounding the ‘Wolves in a 133-112 victory that was silver, gold and peppermint all rolled into one. Damian Lillard led the all-season effort team to shut out Minnesota midway through the third quarter, one of Portland’s easiest wins of the season.
If you missed the action, you can read our quarter-by-quarter recap here. After that, here are some more observations from the game.
Portland actually didn’t play an ideal game tonight. They’ve lost a lot of threes. Their releases on other shots weren’t exactly pristine, perhaps looking at Rudy Gobert’s closure. They have held the ball too long on many assets. Their defense was poor. (Minnesota shot 50% from the floor and spent most of the game over 40% from the arc.) Damian Lillard crossed ALL of this off as a minor footnote. He needed two things: a half ass screen and the ball. Given that, he pulled the gold out of the straw for a total of 38 points on 13-21 shooting, 11-17 long range. He had 27 points in the first half, shooting 8-10 from the arc. At times, he seemed determined to beat Clyde Drexler’s franchise all-time mark TONIGHT, even though he’s still about 100 points away. He didn’t quite make it, but he tied a career high with those 11 threes made.
Jusuf Nurkic started this loaded game for Gobert. He rebounded hard, hit a couple threes and led the lane. The three didn’t fall, so he fired them. The driving and generally aggressive mentality continued. The Blazers ended up going with Drew Eubanks by large stretches, because he provided even more quickness and mobility while being able to set up the same relatively solid screens that Nurkic provided. Eubanks also rewarded the Blazers well. But the aggressive Nurk is usually a good Nurk, and so he was 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 rely less on three-pointers this year than in years past, but when they actually hit their three-pointers, they become very, very tough to beat. Minnesota didn’t have too much trouble scoring tonight, but every time they did, it looked like Lillard and the Blazers hit another three-pointer, taking out the sting of Minny’s buckets. It’s very difficult to catch up when you make two shots, the other team hits one, yet you only regained one point on the board. Portland shot 21-46, 45.7% from distance tonight, a huge factor. Seven players have hit at least one triple.
Fainting of physicality
The Timberwolves came into this game looking to be more physical with the Blazers. Typically, Portland will drive against the teeth of a rough defense, drawing contact and hitting the line. Tonight they went in the opposite direction. When the bigger ‘Wolves players got close to the ball, Portland passed it before they could get a seal or close contact. It ended up looking like a game of estrangement between adults and 8-year-olds. The same size that threatened the trapped Timberwolves kept them from recovering when that trap didn’t work. They ended up bumping into players where the ball was while the Blazers were driving or sinking shots around them.
Tall screens, no rolls of film
Portland had a good strategy for the scripts tonight. They threw the pick with the center, very high. But the pick-setter rarely rolled to center. This left the lane clear of both offensive players and Goberts. He also put a lot of pressure on the dribble defender to make it past the now longer lasting screen… something the “Wolves rarely 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 more effective when that shot is made. On the other, the sacrifice pulled the teeth out of the Minnesota defense as the cost of Portland’s fourth option and… whatever Drew Eubanks is. And hey, as we mentioned above, both pivots performed well. It was a nice touch against this opponent.
The Blazers won the battle of the boards tonight 43-30, including 11-7 on offensive glass. That’s a good indicator of how desperately this game has fallen apart for the T-Wolves. Dominant lane control added hot sauce to the victory burrito, when you consider how the Blazers feasted from the perimeter as well.
The Blazers also dominated on fast break points, which technically should have been Minnesota’s lead. Instead the tally read 24-17, Portland, and this despite the Blazers having given up 19 turnovers to the opponent. It wasn’t right.
Simons Again Ouchy
Not to cast a shadow on the proceedings, but people waiting for Anfernee Simons to recover from her slump will have to wait a little longer. Simons went 5-13, 2-8 from distance for 12 points in 33 minutes. But she had 6 assists!
Easy does it
Finally… finally! The Blazers actually stretched a lead, then stretched it, then held it throughout the final period. This allowed them to rest their appetizers for a bit. It also allowed the boisterous crowd at the Moda Center to party throughout the fourth quarter instead of biting their nails.
The Blazers now set off on a six-game road trip that will take them through Christmas. It begins in San Antonio on Wednesday night with a 5:00am start, Pacific.