The shorthanded Timberwolves hosted the Trail Blazers on Saturday night in the first game of a four game home stand without three of their starters and approximately 60% of their total offense. With both Nikola Pekovic (ankle) and Kevin Love (quad) already sidelined, matters were made much more difficult after Kevin Martin sustained a broken left thumb against the Pelicans on Friday night. The Blazers, having lost six of their past ten games, faced off against an impotent Minnesota offense of which included Dante Cunningham, Chase Budinger and Ronny Turiaf in the starting lineup.
The lack of offensive weapons opened the door for Ricky Rubio to assume a much greater role in the teams scoring efforts and he began the game very aggressive on the offensive end. The early returns were fruitful for the Spanish point guard as he hit four of his six shot attempts while not shying away from mid-range jump shots. It was very encouraging to watch Rubio gaining confidence in creating his own shot and he did a very nice job with both his elevation and release point on his shots. For Rubio, he will need to find consistency in his release in order for him to begin to take the next steps as a scorer.
The Timberwolves kept the score close during most of the first quarter until allowing an 8-0 Trail Blazers run to end the quarter. Portland led 28-23 after one.
During the second half, Coach Rick Adelman called on rarely-used rookie Shabazz Muhammad to inject some energy into a stagnant Minnesota offense, and he did not disappoint. Within a few minutes, Muhammad had already eclipsed his former career-high points total with 7 first-half points while demonstrating an ability to go to work on the low block. The first-round pick out of UCLA was criticized for his back-to-the-basket play during the draft process, and it was immediately evident that he has been putting in time on his post moves. He strongly favored a left-handed hook shot and cleared space through the use of a couple of crab dribbles followed by a sharp right pivot, but went to the move almost predictably down the stretch of the game. Regardless, Muhammad lifted Minnesota’s bench and looked confident while on the floor and he will be needed during this current stretch of misfortune for the Wolves.
The Wolves trailed 55-54 at the half despite being clearly overmatched in terms of talent. Cunningham and Turiaf provided reasonable interior defense and helped keep LaMarcus Aldridge to 10 points. Rubio led Minnesota with 14 points while Shabazz brought good energy to Wolves players and fans alike.
Against all odds, Minnesota continued to fight for any points and rebounds they could and jumped ahead 82-75 with 1:50 left in the third quarter, despite having trailed for much of the first half. However, another late-quarter run by Portland put the game tied at 83 heading into the final period.
Leading 87-85 with just under ten minutes to play in regulation, the Wolves soon ran out of steam hanging onto the fleeting offensive production of Rubio and Corey Brewer. The surging Blazers proceeded to go on a 13-1 run, effectively putting the game out of reach for the battered Wolves.
Perhaps the most pivotal play of the game occurred with just under seven minutes remaining with the Timberwolves on a 2-on-1 fast break advantage that initially appeared to culminate in an and-1 layup by Shabazz. However, the young swingman was instead called for a questionable offensive foul for swinging his right arm into the chin of Wesley Matthews. The opportunity for Minnesota to cut the score to 92-90 was denied, and Portland subsequently kept the momentum and quickly extended their lead to 10 points. Budinger’s third three-pointer of the night cut the game back to a 5-point differential at the 4 minute mark, but that was as close as the game would come for the Wolves as they fell to the Blazers 117-110.
Leading the way for the Wolves was Rubio with a career-high 25 points (8-19 FG, 2-4 3pt) and 9 assists in 39 minutes. Both Brewer and Budinger enjoyed arguably their best performances of the season as Brewer recorded 26 points (11-23 FG, 0-1 3pt) and 7 rebounds in 39 minutes while bringing tremendous energy on the defensive end. Budinger netted 19 points (6-12 FG, 3-6 3pt) to pair with 5 rebounds in 29 minutes. Turiaf added 8 points (4-8 FG), 13 rebounds and 3 blocks in 38 minutes.
Three Stars of the Game
- LaMarcus Aldridge - Aldridge scored 16 second-half points giving him 26 points (12-16) and 9 rebounds in 34 minutes and was the key for Portland’s late victory on Saturday night. Combined with his 6-foot-11 stature and high release point, Wolves defenders had no answer for the Blazers’ All-Star power forward. Aldridge’s ability to consistently drain 18 to 20-foot jumpers makes Portland’s high-low offense lethal when clicking.
- Wesley Matthews – Matthews got the most out of his matchup against Budinger and posted 21 points (6-14 FG, 3-5 3pt) and 6 assists in 33 minutes. Portland’s starting shooting guard is now shooting 41.7% from long range and poses a serious threat whenever playing against the defensively-incompetent Minnesota shooting guards.
- Ricky Rubio - Despite shooting a poor percentage yet again, Rubio scored a career-high 25 points and tallied 9 assists while looking the part of a scorer in the first-half.