A pair of blunt quotes from Chris Finch succinctly summed up where the Minnesota Timberwolves are at after a 133-112 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers Monday night.
“They just kicked our ass in every facet, you know,” Finch said. Later, he addressed Minnesota’s inconsistency by saying “That’s indicative of a team that’s 13-14. You’re pretty much inconsistent by nature. At this point, I don’t know if there’s a magic button to push.”
Damian Lillard was the one who seemed to have the magic button on the night: Whenever he took a three it seemed to go in, no matter how outlandish the distance. The results were 38 points, a career-high 11 made threes and a second straight Wolves loss in a two-game series at the Moda Center.
“We can always figure something out, it was just the fact that we didn’t today,” Jaylen Nowell said of the defensive effort against Lillard. “I think that’s just something that we need to look at and come back, make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Perhaps Lillard’s 15-of-15 mark from the free throw line in the previous matchup had something to do with it, but Minnesota didn’t totally commit to locking down his airspace even as he was going nuclear from the jump. Lillard scored 27 of his team’s 70 first-half points and made eight 3-pointers, two off the NBA record for a half.
Kyle Anderson confirmed that Saturday’s whistle affected how Minnesota defended Lillard.
“That’s a good way to put it: It was in the back of our minds,” he said. “It’s tough, I mean I thought we took those rules out. I don’t want to get in trouble, sorry. Yeah, it was tough.”
Minnesota’s defensive issues didn’t end with Lillard, though. They posed little resistance at the point of attack, allowing Portland’s ball handlers to get wherever they wanted and creating chain-reaction rotations that always seemed to culminate in a dunk, layup or 3-pointer. As a whole, Portland shot 53.9% from the floor and 45.7% from three for the game.
Even when Lillard started to miss a few threes while going record hunting at the end of the third quarter, the other Blazers made Minnesota pay. Portland went on an 18-6 run over the final 4:37 of the period to turn a 10-point lead into a dominant 24-point edge, with Lillard scoring just one layup in the stretch.
“That wasn’t us. Last game was more our style. We kinda let that one get away,” D’Angelo Russell said postgame. “This one, I don’t think our approach was right as a team.”
The Wolves had an eye-popping stat line of their own: Rudy Gobert finished with 16 points and a gaudy 20 rebounds. He also threw down some freaky alley-oop jams as the Wolves continue to improve their timing with the rim-rolling big man.
Gobzilla getting it done early! #RaisedByWolves | #NBA pic.twitter.com/mFXefLeNdW— Bally Sports North (@BallySportsNOR) December 13, 2022
Russell continued his streak of strong offensive play, going for 23 points — his fifth straight game with 20-plus points — to go along with eight assists. He drilled midrange jumpers throughout the night.
“I’ve always been comfortable [in the midrange],” he said. “Just trying to pick and choose. It’s a shot that’s there all game, but it might not be a great shot all game. Just trying to initiate the offense and pick and choose when to get there.”
Still, none of the Wolves’ success felt particularly as hard-hitting with Lillard throwing in bombs from all over the court and feeding the Moda Center crowd’s fervor with each snipe from downtown.
Damian Li11ard is very good at basketball #RipCity pic.twitter.com/QcXRLW82fm— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) December 13, 2022
Minnesota’s lack of impactful depth didn’t help matters. Finch had promised before the game to add one or two more players to the rotation with Karl-Anthony Towns, Taurean Prince and Jordan McLaughlin out, but the one major addition before garbage time was Bryn Forbes, who scored two points and shot one-of-four from the field. The Wolves simply didn’t have answers for what the Blazers — who got 38 points from reserves — threw at them.
“I wish we were at full strength so our bench could kind of compete against them,” Anderson said. “They’re a really good bench in this league. But you could tell they got a few games together and they’re playing well together. When Dame and Simons could go out of the game and their bench comes in and gives them something like that, that’s a luxury.”
The Wolves who did play didn’t show up in the way they needed to coming off Saturday’s loss. When asked what his team lacked, Finch responded “readiness to play.” From the 10-of-19 mark at the line to the repeated defensive breakdowns, it certainly didn’t seem that the Wolves had the proper focus.
“When you miss that many free throws and layups, it really comes down to ‘Were you really ready to play?’” Finch said.
The Wolves will have a chance to show they’re ready to play in the penultimate contest of their five-game road trip at the Clippers Wednesday.