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NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Minnesota Timberwolves
‘Twas the Old Melo
Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Blazers 125, Wolves 121: Melo Turns Back the Clock

Turn our clocks forward? Melo turned his back.

MINNEAPOLIS — The Good Post-All-Star Break Vibes were predictably short-lived as the Blazers proved too difficult to beat, winning 125-121 Saturday night at Target Center.

While the rest of us are ready to set our clocks forward, Melo turned his back. A night before we spring forward with daylight saving time, the 18-year vet dropped 26 points and dished out 6 dimes off the bench. The old Melo returned, hitting shot after shot every time the Wolves closed in down the stretch. His pass to Derrick Jones Jr. for an easy flush in the final minute sealed the victory on a special night for the veteran baller—he passed Hakeem Olajuwon for 11th place on the NBA’s career scoring list.

Damian Lillard finished with 25 points and 10 assists, though the Wolves did about as well as anyone could hope for against the dynamite point guard running the show in Portland. It took Dame 19 shots and 9 free throws (54.4 TS%) to get there as he was met with a ton of defensive focus, begging him to play more as a facilitator.

Enes Kanter crushed the Wolves with easy lay-ups—adding 20 points and 11 rebounds—but his defense was awful as usual and made his performance kind of a wash. The extra small lineups Terry Stotts has to roll out without the injured Jusuf Nurkic in the fold leaves Portland extremely vulnerable in the paint and on the glass. It was the way the Wolves were able to stick around, grabbing 19 offensive rebounds and scoring 60 points in the paint, led by Karl-Anthony Towns’ 35 points and 10 boards. KAT was a force on offense, but once again left a lot to be desired on the other end. Anthony Edwards added another incredible dunk to his rookie highlight reel, but his lack of defense and overall efficiency remains a concern. He scored 21 points on 18 shots. A positive: His 8 rebounds and continued improvement in Downhill Ant Bully Ball.

“It was our start that really did us in,” said head coach Chris Finch. The early turnovers hurt with 4 of their 18 coming in the first two minutes of the game, causing Finch to call an early timeout to preach ball security and execution. They fought back to take a one-point lead heading into the fourth but ultimately couldn’t string together enough stops down the stretch to put the Blazers away. “We have to start a little faster especially against a team like this. Their M.O. is to start fast and run teams out of the gym,” said Towns.

“I was pretty pleased with the defense for the most part, we were draped on them and they made tough shots,” said Finch, who has stressed defending without fouling early in his tenure. That didn’t happen, though neither team could avoid fouls on a night dominated by whistles and reviews. “As players, we don’t control what the refs call. I would say we need to wall up more, less reaching. They are calling that a lot on us. Less jumping to the side.”

Both teams will be back at it again tomorrow night at Target Center for another battle. We’ll see how the Wolves respond, and particularly what adjustments they might make as they attempt to bring back some of the better vibes they left New Orleans with.

Notes & Quotes

  • Karl-Anthony Towns registered his second 30+ point effort of the season (70th career), finishing with a game-high 34 points on a season-high 12-of-21 from the field including 2-of-4 from deep. Towns added 10 rebounds, marking his second 30+ point/10+ rebound game of the season (58th career).
  • With his two three-pointers tonight, Towns extended his career-long and franchise-long streak of games with at least one three-point shot made to 53 games.
  • Anthony Edwards had 21 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 assists. It was his 12th game with 20+ points (fifth in his last six games)
  • Ricky Rubio had 10 points, 4 rebounds, 8 assists, and 2 steals.
  • Juancho Hernangomez might be out of the dog house? He logged an unusual 24 minutes off the pine, adding 10 points and 8 rebounds. He’s been terrible this season but finally looked effective. Maybe it was simply matchup driven against a small PDX team, or perhaps the front office could be trying to showcase him to generate some interest before the NBA trade deadline? Starting power forward Jarred Vanderbilt had 9 rebounds and 3 blocks in 13 minutes, though his 4 turnovers might’ve played a role in the minutes at the 4 spot in this game.
  • Jaylen Nowell scored 17 points on 7-14 shooting, including 3-6 from deep—his 14th double-digit scoring effort of the season. He’s showing flashes of being a big-time scoring punch at either guard spot. “They got a lot of guys that are able to make those tough shots. That’s why they’re a good team,” said Nowell. “It was a long first half [of the season] for me. I definitely needed that mental break, but I’m ready for the second half.” Nowell also said he and his teammates were rejuvenated by the All-Star break.
  • Wolves scored 60 points in the paint, the fourth time this season they have scored 60+ paint points
  • Damian Lillard finished with 25 points and 10 assists, good enough for his ninth double-double of the season

CHRIS FINCH

On what set the team back against the Blazers

“I mean really it was our start, our start was so poor with the turnovers, that gave them such a cushion. We had to fight back, we built the lead and then they made tough shots. I was pretty pleased with the defense for the most part, we were draped on them they made tough shots. We actually missed a few when we needed them, but pleased with the way we turned the game around to our favor but it was our start that really did us in.”

On if he saw the team exert extra effort and attention to detail tonight:

“Yeah, after the first quarter. I didn’t think the first quarter we brought that type of approach, but we started to get into the game a little bit in the second and in the second half I thought we were really good.”

JAYLEN NOWELL

On the team’s defense:

“I think we played really well defensively. Like you said, sometimes guys just hit shots and they have a lot of great shotmakers, like Dame, like Melo, other guys too. They just got a lot of guys that are able to make those tough shots. We were contesting a good amount, they were just able to make them. That is why they are a good team, the way they are.”

On his mindset playing with different lineups:

“It is really not much of a difference. I am just focused on being aggressive whenever I catch it, making sure that I can make a play. But the one difference that I might say would be when I am initiating the offense, making sure that I get guys in spots. Making sure that I keep the ball moving and make sure the ball doesn’t get stagnant. That is probably the only difference when I am in with that second unit, rather than the first.”

JUANCHO HERNANGÓMEZ

On his mindset game-to-game:

“I mean every game, my goal is to play hard and be ready. If the coach calls my name, I have to be ready. I love basketball too much to not be ready. I am working out every single day to be ready when I have a chance and that is it, that is my only mindset.”

On the defensive effort the last two games:

“I think we had a pretty good effort, defensively. We have to clean up little things of course but last game and this game I saw the guys talking more, more energy, and trying to help each other.”