MINNEAPOLIS — Shortly after a Minneapolis Miracle happened at US. Bank Stadium, as Stefon Diggs did the unthinkable by catching a walk-off 61-yard touchdown to shock the world, sending the Vikings to the NFC Championship game in Philadelphia, another surging team in town prepared to make their own statement.
The momentum and buzz in the city carried over to Target Center as the Timberwolves finished off a five-game homestand with their fifth win over the Blazers. Chants of “Skol, Skol, Skol,” filled the arena throughout the game, and the Wolves kept the good times rolling by dismantling another opponent in front of many jovial fans still on a natural high.
The Wolves are surging right now and playing the best basketball seen in Minnesota since Kevin Garnett was around. Nothing proves that more than the undefeated homestand they capped off on Sunday night. It was only the third five-win homestand in franchise history (5-0 from Jan. 23-31, 2001; 5-1 from Mar. 26-Apr. 5, 1999).
STARTING THE GAME, the defense was a hot mess. The Wolves couldn’t stop anything Portland was running at the them; the Blazers guards were picking them a part with pick-and-rolls and drive-and-kicks. Shabazz Napier was hot in his first stint off the bench, and Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum were hard to contain as usual. The defense was ugly in the beginning. Then, the game shifted quickly in the second quarter after McCollum was called for his third foul at the 11:27 mark.
That untimely foul proved to hurt the Blazers badly; their star two-guard sat on the bench watching as the Wolves played one of the best defensive quarters of their season, allowing only 10 points before heading to the break with the 57-43 lead. It was the fewest points they’ve allowed in any quarter at Target Center since Philadelphia scored nine in the second quarter on Dec. 3, 2014.
“It was a hard game to get going in the beginning,” said Tom Thibodeau. “A late arriving crowd, with good reason. It’s great that the Vikings won, but sometimes you’ve got to get yourself going. After the first few minutes we got going. Portland’s a tough team. They keep pressure on you, that backcourt is dynamic.”
With tonight’s win, the Wolves now sit 0.5 games behind San Antonio for the third spot in the Western Conference. The win also marks the Wolves’ eighth in a row at Target Center (the team’s longest single-season home winning streak since 14 wins in a row from Dec. 16, 2003-Feb. 6, 2004) and they are now 14-1 at home against the West this season. Target Center is becoming a harder place to play every week that goes by.
Karl-Anthony Towns (+27) recorded his league-leading 37th double-double of the season (151 career) with 20 points and 11 rebounds. Towns shot 2-3 from deep and he’s 10-15 from three-point range over the last five games. Jeff Teague added 22 points and 8 assists in 29 minutes. His floater was excellent, as was his decision making. The Wolves are now 4-0 when Teague scores 20+ points.
“We’re playing at a high level,” said Jeff Teague. “I think we’re playing for one another on both ends. I think we’re getting the joy out of seeing somebody else make the shot and making the extra pass, and on the defensive end, we’re taking pride in it. Playing team defense.
“You’ve got to take care of business at home and I think we’re playing well. We’ve had a phenomenal crowd and our home court advantage is definitely a plus. I think we’re just playing at a high level. We’re all locking in and we’re all playing for our ultimate goal. We’ve got some things we need to do to get where we want to be.”
Jimmy Butler was brilliant as usual, balling in his Jordan 32’s. He heard more MVP chants when stepping up to the free throw line throughout the game (9-11 from the stripe) and put together another complete performance to the lead the Wolves. Butler had 24 points, five rebounds, four assists, two steals, and was +23.
Andrew Wiggins had 17 points, four rebounds, two assists, and two steals. “It shows the growth,” Wiggins said. “It shows that we’re getting better every game. We’re way different than we were at the beginning of the year. Way different. We’ve grown a lot.”
Jamal Crawford had 10 points and went +20 off the bench. There’s been a lot of joking about +/- in the locker room lately and tonight was no different. Teague and Crawford were messing around with each other over it.
“We had multiple guys in double figures,” Crawford said. “I think that’s always good when you have that kind of balance. But defensively, we were going on defensive runs. I think we went on a 14-0 run and then we went on a 12-0 run in the second half. We’ve got to put our hats on defense. Offense will come and go, but defense is what can take us there.”
Damian Lillard had 21 points, eight assists, and six rebounds. Pat Connaughton and C.J. McCollum both added 18 apiece for the Trail Blazers. Connaughton came off the bench to score the second-most points of his season. He was gunning from deep.
“I mean they played great defense,” said Lillard. “We knew that they play a gang defense, they’re all in the paint, they help each other, they’ve got active hands, they’re physical. They made it hard for us and we didn’t continue that same ball movement that we had in the first quarter where we had 31 or 33 points or something like that where we’re making that extra pass, we’re delivering it on time and on target to guys. You know making the play that’s there instead of playing in the crowd. I think in the second quarter we played in the crowd a lot.”