The Minnesota Timberwolves held on to defeat the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday night, the Wolves fourth consecutive victory.
Player grades from Timberwolves’ win over Trail Blazers
As the Minnesota Timberwolves eye the upcoming postseason with the goal of turning an encouraging season into a real playoff run, the balance of defense and offense is the biggest question they have to answer.
Minnesota has been mostly unable to combine its best play on both sides of the floor this season, and so was the case in Saturday night’s 135-121 home victory over the Portland Trail Blazers. The Wolves ran their offense with ease despite significant perimeter depth issues cropping up throughout the night, shooting 56.5 percent from the field and 40.5 percent from three.
On the other hand, Portland ran an efficient offense while only dressing eight players, as the Wolves had major problems defending on the perimeter. Anfernee Simons went off for 38 points, but he’s a talented emerging force; it’s less palatable when two-way player Brandon Williams and G-League frequenter Keon Johnson combine for 36 on 23 shots.
Minnesota also got into foul trouble once again. It didn’t have a major impact on any one individual’s minutes, but it did offer bail-out scoring opportunities to a team basically devoid of offensive difference-makers outside of Simons — the Blazers made 25 of 30 free throws to elevate their offense.
Still, Minnesota emerged with the victory on the back of a strong second half highlighted by a 46-point third quarter, digging deep on the second night of a back-to-back.
“We played with a lot of character, a lot of competitiveness. We some dogs,” Karl-Anthony Towns told Bally Sports’ Katie Storm postgame.
Minnesota also had a few individuals who made statements with their games.
Karl-Anthony Towns: A
36 points (13-17 FG, 0-4 3P, 10-11 FT), 15 rebounds, five assists, three blocks
The Blazers ran the “guard Towns with a big forward and have the center help off a Wolves forward” defense for the most part, and this was one of the big man’s best performances against that approach. Towns handled double-teams, picking his spots to attack and dropping some beautiful dimes when double-teamed.
Towns really started to enforce his will in the second quarter, capping an 18-point first half with a wildly impressive drive into a lefty, buzzer-beating floater.
Even when Towns hit the floor and came up gimpy at one point in the third quarter, he stayed in and continued to run the Wolves’ offense as a post fulcrum. Portland simply had no bigs capable of handling him inside, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more efficient scoring night; after all, he made every one of his 13 2-point attempts.
“We understand what’s going on, and I know these fans deserve the best from me,” Towns said while receiving “MVP” chants from the remaining fans after the game. “Win the 3-Point Contest [but] can’t make a three, best way to do it is to dominate in the paint.”
Jaylen Nowell: A
22 points (8-13 FG, 4-7 3P, 2-3 FT), one rebound, two assists
Nowell took on the challenge of providing perimeter scoring production basically right after Malik Beasley’s ejection, scoring 11 third-quarter points as Minnesota began to pull away. His manner of doing so — filling it up from behind the arc — was also a shockingly good facsimile of what the Wolves want Beasley to be given the differences between the two.
“We needed it more than ever tonight,” head coach Chris Finch said on Wolves Live Postgame. “We needed the scoring, we needed the shot creation, and he’s very, very good at that.”
This is what Nowell has been good for all season: Every time Finch needs him, whether because of poor performances or injuries ahead of him, Nowell comes in ready to get buckets. It’s incredibly difficult to come in cold off the bench after playing few and far between minutes in previous games, but he deserves the distinction as a microwave scorer.
Malik Beasley: C-
16 points (5-10 FG, 4-9 3P, 2-3 FT), one assist, one block
Beasley got the start alongside Russell with both Anthony Edwards and Patrick Beverley out. He had an interesting night, to say the least.
Beasley entered the game needing two treys to break Kevin Love’s franchise record of 190 made 3-pointers in the 2013-14 season. Beasley didn’t make the crowd wait long, draining two triples in the first three minutes to take sole ownership of the record.
Beasley finished with 16 points in 21 minutes on pretty good efficiency. So why the C-? Well, he only played 21 minutes because he got ejected in the third quarter, leaving the team precariously thin on the perimeter after Taurean Prince also departed with back spasms.
Can’t exactly get a good grade when you get yourself thrown out in the middle of a close game.
D’Angelo Russell: B
14 points (5-12 FG, 2-6 3P, 2-2 FT), three rebounds, 15 assists, one steal, two turnovers
Russell deserves the praise he has received for his defensive improvement this season, but this game highlighted the limits to his impact.
Playing floor general and calling out assignments loses value when the surrounding talent gets worse. Russell could communicate as much as he wanted; it was clear from the Blazers’ frequent wide-open threes and layups that the Wolves didn’t know where to go on that end. And the more Simons scored, the more Beverley and Edwards’ absence as individual defenders were felt.
Still, Russell deserves a lot of credit for spearheading Minnesota’s ball movement. He accounted for 15 of their 36 assists, setting a career-high. He didn’t provide much in the scoring column, but he played the role of distributor incredibly well.
One last note on a player who did step up defensively: Jordan McLaughlin brought his typical caginess in wracking up six steals.
The Wolves and Blazers run it back on Monday at the Target Center as Minnesota looks to sweep the season series.