It was a tale of two halves, as the Blazers were out-hustled, outworked, and outclassed, then returned the favor (and then some), going from being down 18 to winning by 11 for the 108-97 final margin. In a game that felt and looked hopeless, it was both a surprise and a relief to see the Blazers will themselves into a state of urgency that got the crowd from boring to roaring.
The credit for much of that energy and urgency rests with one Blazer, who during his postgame interview mentioned that he had waited two years for this moment: Thomas Robinson, on his third team in just his second year in the league, was asked to fill some of the void created by LaMarcus Aldridge’s absence, to provide energy and hustle, and to play defense on the opposing team’s best player. He did, in ways both predictable and in ways that made you say, “…whaaaa?” In the process, he generated jaw-dropping plays that video editors around the state (and around the nation) will be salivating over, and did it while contributing a career-high 18 rebounds with 14 points, 2 assists, 2 blocks, and 0 turnovers in 33 minutes.
You want a Bill Walton-esque downcourt one-handed pass to a streaking teammate? T-Rob did it. You want someone to face the defense outside the free throw line, drive the line, hesitate, then explode like a prime Amare Stoudamire for the huge dunk? T-Rob did it. You want someone to grab the rebound, then pass upcourt to Victor Claver, who then passes it to Barton for the slam, forcing the opponent to call time? T-Rob did it.
It was like someone used the Konami code and picked T-Rob in a video game. There were almost no words to describe what was happening. But the highlight of the night, and maybe the best Blazers play of the year (or the last several years, even) considering much crowd energy it generated, came in the fourth quarter.
With the Blazers building a lead, Wesley Matthews tried to drive into the teeth of the defense, but was denied. The Wolves came back the other way, and Corey Brewer, who had just gotten tangled up with Damian Lillard and instigated a double-foul that sent Lillard to the bench with his fifth, got the ball and had an open lane to the basket. Just behind him and off to the side, T-Rob was quietly tiptoeing in the paint. He was sizing up Brewer, waiting for his moment… and as Brewer rose for the dunk, SNAP, T-Rob sprang like a rattlesnake made out of rubberbands, elevating and turning Brewer away so hard and with so much force that you could have sworn it was a high schooler picking on a little kid. This started a break the OTHER way, and Matthews tossed it up to Barton for the HUGE jam! The crowd was going absolutely nuts, as were thousands of fans watching at home.
With 3 Blazers bigs out of commission, Thomas Robinson has been given the opportunity to make a name for himself. He did that tonight. His energy may have also been the difference because of how it affected everyone else. Even with Lillard scoring 30+ is not enough, by itself, to make up for the absence of LaMarcus Aldridge and Joel Freeland. In a game where Robin Lopez didn’t get his first rebound until seconds to go in the second quarter, and where there was no starter that could adequately guard Kevin Love, Robinson was the difference in this game, in more ways than one.
It’s hard to overstate Robinson’s impact, but basketball isn’t an individual sport, and there was a lot more going on.
The most important of those things is that the Blazers were able to claw back from being down 18 in the second quarter to close to within 8 at the half, the same margin they faced at the end of the first quarter. Portland kept pushing in the third, getting their first lead since the game’s opening minutes on a three from Batum with about 5 to go. There was some back-and-forth, but the Blazers had built a shaky 4-point lead heading into the fourth.
That’s when things really opened up. A 12-0 Blazers run was snapped by a JJ Barea three for Minnesota, but from then on it seemed for every point the Timberwolves scored, the Blazers scored two. Matthews (17 points), Robinson, and Lillard (32 on 11-17 shooting, 5-8 from deep, and 5 assists in just 30 minutes) all either had threes or three-point plays. With the crowd unable to contain itself and the Timberwolves stunned like the hot girl being stood up for prom, the game was over.
When the dust settled, the Blazers were up double-digits, thanks to an aggressive Batum (9-15 for 22 points with 10 boards, 4 assists, a steal, and 3 blocks), Lillard’s sharpshooting 32-point performance, and most importantly, T-Rob’s career night. The 38-18 Blazers get a day off before facing the 25-30 Denver Nuggets on Tuesday in Portland at 6:00 p.m.
The Blazers are the only team in the NBA with 10 wins in their own division (10-3, Northwest Divison).
Lillard’s 32 points in 30 minutes would have been the story of this game, had it not been for T-Rob’s coming out party. Also, if it hadn’t been for Lillard, Batum’s long-awaited arrival back to relevance would have captured the headline.
The difference between how the crowd sounded in the middle of the second quarter compared with the middle of the fourth was incalculable. The decibel meter probably went from LOOKING like it was broken from not registering a sound, to BREAKING from overuse.