Dominant play in the paint was key in the Timberwolves' 120-109 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers tonight at the Target Center. The Blazers made a run at a seemingly insurmountable Minnesota first half lead, but the Wolves were able to hold onto the win, capped off by a Corey Brewer steal that essentially closed it out.
"We were very active, that's why it's very hard to duplicate what we did in the first half," Rick Adelman said following the game. "That's why we're fortunate to open it up again in the third quarter. They're a good team. They can score in bunches."
The Blazers' record falls to 22-5 with the loss, coming into the game with the best record in the Western Conference, and the entire NBA. The Wolves needed the win to get back to .500, and are now 13-13 after tonight's victory. Portland was on their fourth game in five days tonight, including a wild game a night ago against the Cavs. Even so, back-to-backs haven't mattered much to Portland so far this year, according to their 3-1 record on the back end of those games coming into tonight.
It would have been understandable to think the Wolves' 31-22 lead after the first quarter was as big a lead as Minnesota was going to muster against the team that has played at an elite level all year.
Then the second quarter came, and the Wolves' onslaught went from impressive to borderline unrealistic. Their lead got as big as 32 in that quarter, with their consistent defense and success on the fast break making it near-impossible for Portland to stop the Wolves.
It should also be noted that Alexey Shved had another nice showing tonight in a brief 6 minutes of action. Went 2/3 with 6 points and 3 assists in his only stint of the game. Adelman chose not to put him back in in the second half, in part to get his starters to get back into rhythm.
The half finished with a score of 69-43, and Damian Lillard woke up shortly after.
The third quarter belonged completely to Blazers' point guard. He dropped 17 points in that quarter alone, and his ability to pull up and drive with equal proficiency dazzled fans at the Target Center. They came back and got it as close as 80-70, but a barrage of three-pointers by Kevin Love, Kevin Martin and J.J. Barea towards the end of the quarter quickly got Minnesota's lead back to a twenty point lead as the quarter concluded.
The Wolves survived a scary run at the end of the the final quarter to get the win, again, with Lillard leading the way. One sequence included at least four offensive rebounds of Portland misses, concluding with a Nic Batum jumper to get the game back within single digits. The game could have gotten extremely interesting, but a Corey Brewer steal with 43 seconds left all but finished the Blazers off.
"You always expect [a big run] in the NBA, you see it so many times," Adelman said. "They have, over the season, been a great third quarter team, which we talked about. A lot of things can happen."
Kevin Love had 8 assists in the first half, and finished 1 assist shy of a triple double. Still, he finished with 29 points, 15 rebounds and 9 assists. Whether he had "best power forward in the NBA" thoughts on his mind or not, he put up a good showing against a worthy competitor in LaMarcus Aldridge.
"He's extremely tough, can really shoot the ball and play inside, also facilitate," Love said of Aldridge after the game. "He's an unbelievable player and has played unbelievable this year, and we were just happy to get off to a great start, because we know what they are capable of in the 3rd quarter and 2nd half of really closing out games. So we did a good job."
Nikola Pekovic finished with a great game in his own right, shooting 14/19 and scoring 30 points, to go along with 9 rebounds. Kevin Martin was third in scoring for the Wolves with 22 points, with no signs of problems with his knee.
Damian Lillard finished with 26 of his 36 points in the second half for Portland, leading the Blazers in scoring on 13/24 shooting. He also had 7 three-pointers and a couple nice passes in the paint. LaMarcus Aldridge did not play like his usual self, shooting 7/22 from the field for 17 points. He still had 14 rebounds in the game, but did look a bit fatigued from the long stretch of games they've encountered recently.
The award for stat of the game goes to: points in the paint. The Wolves won the battle 72-34, the most the team has scored in franchise history (or, since 1996, when they started recording the stat). The Wolves had 54 points in the paint in the first half alone.