The final score was a 106-101 win for the Portland Trail Blazers, but that will not be the sticking point for fans of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Nor will Damian Lillard's outstanding performance for the Blazers, nor Ricky Rubio's near triple-double in the loss.
No, the talking point will be the decisions made by the officiating crew of Tony Brown, Nick Buchert and Kevin Cutler and the replay center in Secaucus, NJ. One after the other, each and every call of the last minute went against the home team, and after a steal and breakaway by Rubio to bring the Wolves within two points at 103-101, there was no respite.
The first call was a tip-in by Andrew Wiggins that would have tied the game at 103, which was waved off for offensive basket interference, but was sent to the replay center for review. Not only did basically every person associated with the Timberwolves think that the call would be reversed, but they thought it was a relatively clear call. This only increased the surprise when the headset came off and the officials confirmed the original call.
The Trail Blazers took the ball down the court, and the Wolves played excellent defense, forcing CJ McCollum to throw up a prayer as the shot clock expired. The rebound was swatted out of bounds by Mason Plumlee, but the officials called a shot clock violation, so it would be Wolves ball regardless, right? After another lengthy replay review, the call was an inadvertent whistle and jump ball. Karl-Anthony Towns won the jump ball, but the questioning grew louder.
After a missed shot by Andrew Wiggins, Towns fought for a rebound he had no right getting with Plumlee, and another jump ball was called. Towns and Leonard both had hands on each others' off hands: Towns holding Plumlee's wrist, Plumlee holding Towns' bicep. A foul was called, and Towns was the "guilty" party, even with position on the ball. The boos were now loud and clear, and Plumlee made one of two free throws, leaving a chance for the Wolves to tie with a 3 in the final ten seconds.
The inbounds play went to Kevin Martin, who attempted to take the shot and had both arms taken out by McCollum. To very little surprise, no foul was called, and Allen Crabbe broke away for a layup to seal the final score. All four of these calls will be very interesting to see on the NBA's officiating evaluation of the final two minutes, due out tomorrow afternoon.
Now, had the Wolves taken care of the enormous lead they built up early in the game, all of the mess at the end could have been avoided. After the emotional tribute to Flip Saunders pregame, the Wolves came out with all cylinders ablaze, sprinting to a 34-17 lead late in the first quarter. The starters were fired up, Rubio hit his first three jumpers, Towns was active in the paint, all was well.
The Blazers pushed right back, though, and Lillard started cooking in the second quarter, dragging the Blazers back to a 53-all tie at halftime. The run continued with the first seven points of the third, and the Wolves never got closer than a tie again. Lillard, for his part, was majestic, hitting ridiculous shot after ridiculous shot in his game-high 34 points. In what is perhaps unsurprising news, whenever he was matched up against Zach LaVine, he had a habit of embarrassing him, most notably at the end of the first half when LaVine looked to Sam Mitchell for a play call and had the ball swiped right out of his hands.
Karl-Anthony Towns had another impressive game, even if the numbers were less gaudy than Friday's game against Denver. He hit a clutch three-pointer to key the Wolves' final run back to tie the game, had multiple totally ridiculous plays on defense (including the block on Lillard pictured above), and continues to prove how great a player he already is, three games into his NBA career. I remember an anecdote from the Wolves' first loss in Las Vegas this summer about how rarely Towns has lost in his time as a basketball player. This loss will not sit well with him, and he will be back with a vengeance in the Wolves' next game.
The Wolves were beaten on the glass, 46-41. They were beaten from 3, 27 points to 9. They struggled with turnovers, and in several late-game possessions failed to even get a field goal attempt. The Wolves did not deserve to win this game. But yet, they were in this game to the end, and had the opportunity to get the win. It is a pity the attempt to win was impeded by factors beyond the Wolves' control, rather than simply by missed shots and poor execution.