Don’t let the final score fool you: the difference in level of play between the Timberwolves and Trail Blazers tonight was far greater than 10 points. In reality, the Blazers probably should have won by twice as much. A few stretches of cold shooting in the second half allowed Minnesota to close the gap slightly from the 24-point Portland lead it was at one point, but there was never any real hope on their end–the Blazers found their momentum again at the right times throughout the second half and got the job done.
The story of the game was, of course, the inspired play of Wesley Matthews, who literally couldn’t miss a thing for the majority of the first half. Matthews had struggled on offense since his stellar performance in Utah last Thursday, but from the opening tip tonight he was completely dialed-in. He hit his first seven shots from the field, including five from deep in the first quarter alone. His 29 points in the first half nearly equalled his career-high for an entire game, but he eclipsed that in the second half, ending the night with 36. As tends to happen when guys go off like this, the Timberwolves eventually came to their senses and realized, “Man, we should probably start guarding this guy.” But unlike Wednesday’s game against Houston, when Portland silenced Kevin Martin in the fourth after a monster third quarter and no other Rockets player stepped up, other Blazers took up the slack in the second half when the Wolves made Matthews more of a focus of their defense.
Matthews’ three-point display will probably get all the headlines and SportsCenter highlights tomorrow, but he wasn’t the only Blazer who came up big. When he cooled off after halftime, the second half belonged to LaMarcus Aldridge, who put together another fantastic performance and finished with 28 points and 10 rebounds. Andre Miller, on the bench much of the second half in Houston, was much more active tonight, setting Matthews up with the bulk of his three-pointers, making a few steals to take momentum away from the Wolves, and adding 16 points of his own. Marcus Camby’s stat line wasn’t all that impressive, but his defensive plays in the final minute of play–an impressive chasing down of an overthrown pass to Kevin Love and then a block of Love’s shot on Minnesota’s next possession–effectively ended any hope the Wolves had of a comeback win.
The Blazer bench was a non-factor tonight outside of Patty Mills: Rudy Fernandez left early with a stomach bug, Joel Przybilla’s minutes were once again limited as he eases back into action, and Dante Cunningham once again got into foul trouble (a fact he hilariously acknowledged on Twitter after the game). Mills wasn’t quite as sharp from three-point range as he was against the Rockets, but he contributed 10 points and plenty of energy.
Of course, all of these impressive numbers come with the caveat that the Wolves are really, really bad defensive team. And indeed, they were mostly pretty helpless tonight against Portland’s offensive onslaught. Kevin Love had another beast of a game (30 points, 19 rebounds) but he was the only Timberwolves player who had it going the whole game. Michael Beasley started off hot but a couple of hard hits slowed him down later on. A few other Wolves (including former Blazer Martell Webster and former Duck Luke Ridnour) put up points, but they were simply no match for Portland’s offense.
You can slap whatever asterisks you want onto tonight’s performance given the opponent. But on Sunday, the Blazers will return home to play the Miami Heat, a team as good as the Wolves are bad. Given that Matthews had struggled to find his offensive rhythm the last few games, having a game like the one he had tonight can only help him. Granted, being guarded by Wesley Johnson and being guarded by Dwyane Wade are two very, very different things, but sometimes all it takes is a little momentum in the right direction. And after Tuesday’s disappointing loss in Dallas, a 2-1 finish on this road trip is nothing to sneeze at. After their next two games, against the Heat and Knicks, they have a relatively easy schedule the rest of the month, which will likely include a few games as lopsided as this one. And sloppy as the second half was, the fact that they’re able to take care of business against the bottom-feeding teams on the road at this point in the season is crucial for their playoff hopes.