December 18, 2017, 11:28 pm
The Wolves had a chance to complete a 3-2 homestand versus the division-rival Trail Blazers and didn’t waste any time jumping out to an early first quarter lead thanks to Jimmy Butler, who had 10 points and two steals.
Towards the end of the first though the Blazers defense started to lock down and their offense couldn’t miss. For much of the game Portland was shooting above 57 percent from the field, and in the first half they made nine 3-pointers.
Al-Farouq Aminu was 3-of-3 on 3-pointers, while Lillard and McCollum had two apiece. The top 3-point shooters on the Blazers were all looking to pop off big games.
After the half the Blazers only made one 3-pointer, none coming from the three aforementioned players. Instead it became a layup show and pick-and-roll clinic with Lillard and Nurkic.
Portland built their lead up to as many as 10 points in the second half. Facing an eight-point deficit heading into the fourth quarter, it was looking to be another disappointing finish for the Wolves.
Despite being the worst fourth quarter team in the NBA, the Wolves bucked that trend and fought back.
It was Jamal Crawford who caught fire in the fourth. He finished with 23 points, including 15 in the fourth, on 10-of-16 shooting in only 23 minutes. His single 3-pointer came with the shot-clock winding down on a broken play forcing him to pull up from 30-plus feet away.
He mostly was pulling up from about 20 feet and draining shots off the dribble. It’s tough to watch Crawford when those shots rim out, but tonight he simply was not missing and it paid off for the Wolves.
It was Jimmy Butler who was the main man on the night though. He finished the game with 37 points on 12-of-21 shooting, with six rebounds, four assists and three steals. He also added two 3-pointers and made 11-of-12 at the line, including the two to put the Wolves ahead for good.
There was about eight seconds left in the game and the Wolves had the ball down 106-107. Butler took the inbounds towards the baseline, while the rest of the Wolves loaded on the opposite end, giving Butler the whole floor. Three Blazers converged on Jimmy and fouled him with two seconds left, and Butler went to the line and sunk both.
Once again it wasn’t the prettiest to watch, or even very enjoyable really, as the Wolves just relied on isolation offense to score throughout the fourth quarter. Sometimes though it’s the right call and tonight, with Butler and Crawford making all the right plays, it was the answer.
Portland was running the pick-and-roll to perfection early in the game, leading to 20 points from Nurkic and a 17-point, 13-assist game from Lillard. In fact Nurkic had one of his most efficient offensive games on the season playing almost strictly in the P&R.
He shot 9-of-12 from the field, including 7-of-8 at the rim. On the season Nurkic has taken 60 percent of his shots away from the rim and shot 36 percent there. Tonight his shots shifted dramatically closer towards the rim because he was meeting so little resistance on his rolls to the basket.
In the fourth quarter though the Blazers got a little sloppy and started turning the ball over with errant passes or bad dribbles. There were a number of plays where fouls could have been called but the refs played through it. It seemed to take Portland out of their element. The Blazers only took five free throws on the night.
The Wolves also deserve credit for turning up the pressure. They realized the whistles weren’t coming so they didn’t back down.
Towns was up-and-down versus Nurkic, scoring 16 points on 5-of-15 shooting, with eight rebounds, four assists, one steal and three 3-pointers. He also played a team-high 41 minutes.
Wiggins really had a bad game, scoring only nine points on 4-of-14 shooting. He’s been in a huge slump now, spanning seven out of eight games. The effort comes and goes which is driving everyone from coaches to fans nuts. He’ll probably heat up again soon and turn everyone back on his side again, before slowing down once more. So it goes with Wiggins.
Overall this was probably a game the Wolves should not have won as they were out-shot (55 percent to 46 percent), out-rebounded (40-to-32) made made less threes (10-to-7), but they will take the win regardless. The Wolves were a couple of bounces away from a 5-0 homestand, but lost two close games so this one won’t be taken for granted.
Next up the Wolves head out on the road for a three game west coast road trip beginning in Denver.