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Blazers 113, Wolves 105: Late Threes Doom Wolves in Portland

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Lillard and McCollum. Ball game.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Portland Trail Blazers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Things were not looking auspicious tonight, as it was announced before the game that Robert Covington would be out with a sore knee. It got even worse when Karl-Anthony Towns was whistled for his second foul just minutes into the game and had to sit down. Despite that, the Wolves hung in all night, until back breaking threes by Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum in the final minute finally salted this one away for the Blazers 113-105.

It felt like a struggle most of the night, with the Wolves falling behind early and generally playing catch up, without finding anything consistent offensively they could go to. They were helped by sloppy Blazers play and their own aggressive defense, forcing 20 Portland turnovers, 12 of which were steals. But they struggled to finish from everywhere on the court, and could not keep the Blazers off the offensive glass. They finished with 14 offensive boards, eight by Jusuf Nurkic, who was a force all game long.

I found it frustrating that Tom Thibodeau would not adjust his rotations to the circumstances. Instead of playing Dario Saric next to Towns, two outside threats which would have forced Portland to make a decision about Nurkic that the Wolves could have exploited, he stuck with his standard procedure until late in the game.

Furthermore, the Jeff Teague-Derrick Rose back court was really not working, in part because Rose had a tough shooting night (though did keep them in the game early in the fourth quarter) but also because the Blazers guards require more of a defensive presence. Tyus Jones was excellent on that end, but did not receive any extra minutes as a result. Josh Okogie was impetuous and impressive, but it was Rose and Teague trying to close the game out after the Wolves took a five point lead late. It wasn’t to be as Lillard took over, and the Wolves had no answer late.

On the one hand, I’m pleased with the short-handed effort, the fact that they fought to stay in the game, and actually had a great chance to win with two minutes left. On the other, I feel like they let one slip away that they could have had even without RoCo, had they either gotten one or two more bounces or had the coach made some better decisions.

For reasons that I cannot fathom, he replaced Saric with Taj Gibson with the game tied and the Wolves in possession. Who gets an open corner three? Why it’s Gibson! He misses, Lillard makes, Rose misses a three on the next possession, McCollum makes, and the game is over.

It was great to see Josh Okogie back in action. After a series of DNP-CDs, he got 26 minutes, and once again wreaked various brands of havoc. He was only credited with one steal, but his activity on the defensive end and ability to stay in front of ball handlers was on display. He also had some out of control moments, but it seems clear to me there is a player in there. He made a go-ahead three pointer in the fourth quarter, and then made a crazy play where he got stuck without a pass to make, tossed the ball off the back board and went and tipped in his own offensive rebound. That brought the bench to its feet, but he wouldn’t be much longer for the ball game.

It’s so disappointing because the West is so crammed together any win or loss can send you hurtling up or down the standings by several places. This game was there for the taking; The Wolves were up six with under four minutes left. They just couldn’t figure out how to close things out on the road, and so instead of moving two games over .500, they are back to even with the Warriors waiting on Monday.

NOTES

  • Derrick Rose shoots too much, and controls the ball too much. Along with Teague, it leads to stagnation. The Teague-Rose-Wiggins perimeter isn’t a good look, because Wiggins, who if he isn’t scoring probably isn’t helping, isn’t getting it in good spots.
  • Wiggins scored 20 on 8-18, and didn’t play poorly, but went long stretches without affecting things.
  • Towns was clearly frustrated with the calls, and in truth it’s tough to blame him. The foul that sent him to the bench was just silly; it was some mild jostling for position and didn’t affect the play, and he was called for an offensive foul. Later, he struggled to get calls going to the basket.
  • The three guys who were “+” for the Wolves were Jones, Saric, and Okogie, and I think that is representative. Some if not all of them should have been on the floor for the end game. Okogie should have been out there guarding one of Lillard or McCollum, at least.
  • The Wolves really missed Covington. Derrick Rose should not be playing 37 minutes or taking 25 shots.