On the heels of a disappointing loss to the Denver Nuggets on Thursday, the Portland Trail Blazers rebounded on Saturday, edging the Minnesota Timberwolves 124-118 at the Moda Center.
It was a disappointing start to the season for Wolves, but they have been playing better lately, even without Karl-Anthony Towns, who will miss at least a month with a calf strain.
Damian Lillard didn’t have the best shooting night (9-22), but he had a perfect 15-15 from the foul streak and finished with a career-high 36 points with 8 assists and 2 steals. Anfernee Simons added an impressive 31 points in response to his worst game of the season, Where he emerged victorious in the “Battle of the Ants” against Anthony Edwards of the Wolves, who finished with 26 points.
The Blazers were determined to get Simons on offense early and he was able to deliver. Simmons got Portland on the board with a dunk out of bounds play and followed it up with an angle three runs later. It was needed, as both sides were keen to let the long ball fly despite the meager results. Jusuf Nurkic and Jaden McDaniels traded a pair of fumbles and nearly halfway through the period Minnesota held a slim 9-7 advantage.
After Simmons went to the bench, it was Lillard’s turn to take over as a thorn in the claw of the Wolves. Although he started 0-3 from deep, Dame was an effective driver in defense and caused most of his damage from the foul line. Lillard was a perfect 7-7 from charity tape in the quarter and finished the game with 11 points, keeping the Blazers pace as the Coyotes started to heat up.
Drew Eubanks found himself receiving a couple of Lillard dimes to set up an easy dunking cut, but Naz Reid answered them again with mid-range substitutes, as the reserves basically stopped.
There were a couple of more free gifts followed by an acrobatic shot and a circus one by Lillard in the final minute, which put Portland up 32-27 after another.
Upon his return, Simmons continued to be the Blazers’ man, as he and Jeremy Grant combined to score the home team’s first 15 points of the quarter. Simmons looked like he had some extra vigor in his step as he dashed around for shots and slammed the ball with confidence, translating a beautiful floater down the fairway followed by three straight catches without hesitation.
Anthony Edwards had the answer at the other end, as he knocked down a pair of triples of his own and along with D’Angelo Russell started to get Minnesota’s offense going. The Russell Thirty briefly pulled the Coyotes within 2 at 49-47 in the middle of the period, and after a Portland timeout, that momentum only continued to build.
A one-handed alley dunk by Shaedon Sharpe brought the crowd to its feet but the enthusiasm was quickly dampened by consecutive easy buckets at the rim from Reid and Edwards, the latter giving Minnesota its first lead of the quarter.
More free throws from the Lady helped stem the bleeding, but the Wolves managed to hold on to a 66-65 lead going into the break.
For most of the period, Portland was stuck in a game of catch-up with Edwards, which must have felt at times like stopping a bulldozer with tissue paper. Tall and built like a middle linebacker with cross dribbling, Edwards is a load and then some, and when he decides to put his head down and attack the basket, it’s very hard to slow him down. On nights when his outside shot falls, as it was tonight, this task becomes more difficult. He had 13 points in the third period as the Coyotes slowly increased their lead to as many as 10 points with 5 minutes remaining.
But a furious end to the quarter saw the Blazers close the gap behind Lillard, Drew Eubanks and yes, more free throws. Eubanks’ Tomahawk jam on Rudy Gobert recovered a great pass from Dame with 14 seconds remaining that put Portland up 94-92 and set the table in a hotly contested final frame.
The fourth quarter
Simmons continued to keep it rolling to start the fourth, converting it on a running float to open the period, then swept the passer for a cream-like hook that extended the Blazers’ lead to 8 at 105-97.
Minnesota responded by forcing the ball onto a first down Joubert, who was able to use his Gumby-like height to beat Nurkic one-on-one, but at this point the Coyotes needed more than their two hard-earned touchdowns.
A contested three-and-out straight from Lillard was the way to play, giving Portland a 118-113 lead with two and a half minutes remaining that they would never relinquish. From there, the Blazers were able to control the clock and play the free throw game to hold on and prevail.
Stay tuned for our extended recap soon!
The Blazers will have another home rematch against the Wolves Monday night at 7 p.m. Pacific.
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