My eyes. My poor, poor eyes. If I could un-see the majority of the past 2 ½ hours of my life, I would. And I assure you that this intro would look the same if this were a Portland Trail Blazers blog. Monday night’s game was an all-out assault on lovers of the sport of basketball. As someone who vouches for the relative efficiency and cleanness of the professional game in comparison to that of NCAA hoops….this was an embarrassment, an abomination. The fourth quarter was entertaining, to be sure, but it was not enough to cancel out how unsightly the earlier portions of the game were.
At halftime, he Timberwolves held a 24-12 lead in points in the paint, the bench was outscoring their counterparts 20-6, and the Wolves had turned the ball over just 7 times in comparison to Portland’s 12. Alas, the score was a Portland lead of 49-38 at the break, buoyed by a 52%-38% field goal advantage and a 24-14 lead in the rebounding battle.
In the first half, the Wolves again could not stop Wesley Matthews. After missing his first two three-point attempts, he converted on his next four shots from long range. In the second half, the Wolves got within 57-54 with five and a half minutes remaining in the third quarter before allowing Portland to go on a 20-4 run and take a 77-58 lead into the final frame.
The Wolves made a series of inexcusable mistakes in the third quarter, despite the Blazers ending the period with a stunning 21 turnovers. Andrei Kirilenko never came out of the locker room at halftime due to a quad strain, and after starting the second half with in a defensive flurry, the players wore out and Kirilenko’s defensive tenacity was sorely missed. The quarter was dotted with easy missed layups by Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, and Derrick Williams to go along with embarrassingly shoddy defense. The frame was capped by an inexcusable foul by Luke Ridnour underneath his own basket with .2 seconds remaining that gave the Blazers a free two points. Those two free points turned out to be awfully important, obviously.
Heading into the fourth quarter with a 19-point deficit, the Wolves rolled out a peculiar 3-guard lineup of Rubio, Barea, Shved, Cunningham, and Stiemsma. They held their own on defense and were able to chip away, before Pekovic entered the game midway through the quarter. The Wolves managed a 22-6 run over a five and a half minute span, capped by a Cunningham steal and assist to Barea for a layup, cutting the Portland lead to 97-96 with 36.9 seconds remaining. Aldridge and Cunningham traded buckets before Luke Babbitt made one of two free throws, pushing the lead to 100-98. Adelman elected not to call a timeout, and Rubio dribbled in a circle before hoisting an off-balance jumper that was blocked by Aldridge.
Fantastic Wolves’ color analyst Jim Peterson had been talking for a few minutes about LaMarcus Aldridge’s aversion to converting on late-game free throw attempts, and he proved to be absolutely correct. After a pair of misses at the charity stripe, the Wolves drew up a play that had Cunningham catching the ball in his sweet spot on the left wing. After being contested and being forced to pump-fake and take a dribble to his left, Cunningham was off-balance and air-balled his mid-range attempt at the buzzer.
Some thoughts and observations….
– Where was Chris Johnson? Portland seems to be the perfect team to deploy the athletic and energetic big man. With Portland’s youth and athleticism, Johnson was worth the shot – especially once the game started to slip away late in the first half. Blazers’ center Meyers Leonard would have been a great matchup for Johnson off the bench, and I would have also liked to have seen Johnson defend J. J. Hickson. I do not normally question Rick Adelman’s substitution patterns, but this seemed to be a clear oversight.
– For as much as the Wolves’ have seen Damian Lillard and Wes Matthews gut the Wolves’ defense over the course of two previous losses, you would think the game plan would have been adjusted and the rotations altered. The diminutive Ridnour cannot guard Wes Matthews, and Portland’s bigs set good enough screens that Lillard always seems to find himself wide open, whether from mid-range or beyond the arc. The Wolves’ bigs, on the other hand, do not do a good enough job at stepping out and contesting shooters above high screens. Portland’s shooters (Mathews early, Babbitt late, and Lillard and Aldridge throughout) had yet another field day against Minnesota.
– Shved struggled mightily with his shot tonight, forcing the issue often and finishing just 3 of 10 from the field to go along with 3 turnovers. He has had three terrible games against the Blazers so far this season.
– Rubio had season-highs in both points (15) and assists (14). He did turn the ball over four times, but played probably his second best overall game of the season, after this Saturday’s performance against New Orleans.
– It is encouraging to see the Wolves continue to battle and fight to stay in games in which they are down by large margins. It’s too bad the season is all but lost at this point, but at least they haven’t completely thrown in the towel. Here’s hoping they still have some fight left when Budinger and Love return.
– The Wolves will host the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN.