Blazers hustle in the second half to down Minnesota 124-118
Despite two-and-a-half quarters of bad defense, the Portland Trail Blazers (14-12) found a way to win at home over Minnesota 124-118.
The Portland offense executed well in the first half, getting to the free throw line 19 times and shooting 21 3-pointers, hitting on seven of them.
Anfernee Simons was the best from deep, going 4 for 7 from beyond the arc while Damian Lillard was aggressive getting to the rim and earned nine free throws, hitting all of them.
Those two led the way scoring with Simons at 18 and Lillard at 15 at the break. The issue for Portland was once again the defense, giving up 66 points and trailing 66-65 at the break.
Minnesota got the job done at all levels as well, hitting five 3-pointers and scoring 38 points in the paint behind plenty of strong drives from Anthony Edwards, Kyle Anderson and Naz Reid.
Edwards kept it going into the third quarter, hitting a couple 3-pointers and finishing off some big drives to the hoop.
The whole start to the third wasn't great as Portland found itself down by as much as 10 points at one point, but the final three minutes of the frame turned the game around.
The Blazers started getting into the passes down low to disrupt the Timberwolves looking for more points in the paint. Lillard had active hands all night, chasing down a rebound in the frame and forcing a turnover on Austin Rivers.
That hustle helped Portland tie the game at 92 when Hart poked away a rebound and passed it off for a wide open Drew Eubanks rushing the basket for a one-handed slam, putting Portland up 94-92 going into the fourth.
The good times kept rolling into the fourth, and so did the emphatic Eubanks dunks. The Troutdale local put Rudy Gobert on a poster about halfway through the quarter to keep the energy alive and well at Moda.
DREW HAVE MERCY ?#RipCity | @DrewEubanks12 pic.twitter.com/ZfTKHS126b— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) December 11, 2022
Minnesota stayed in it thanks to some easy buckets from Gobert, but Lillard did his thing and hit a couple huge shots, and had some help from Grant hitting a deep two late in the shot clock that kept Portland ahead.
The defense wasn't there again, but the Blazers were able to close it out offensively between Lillard, Simons and Grant to get the win.
Lillard finished with 36 points and eight assists while Simons had 31 points and Grant chipped in 17 and seven rebounds. It was the first time that both Lillard and Simons went for at least 30 points in the same game.
Minnesota is the next opponent and they'll play at 7 p.m. again on Monday in the Moda Center.
What they said
"I just thought the last three or four minutes of the third quarter our defense kind of turned a little bit. We were much better. I was really upset coming into halftime giving up pretty much 40 points in the second quarter. It's tough to absorb that. I thought we came out with some pride in the second half and our defense kind of changed at the end of the third quarter and we rode it on through," Blazers coach Chauncey Billups said of the defensive turn.
"We know it's going to be tough every night, this was another one that came down to the wire, and we gotta be the team to make plays on the defensive end and the offensive end, and tonight we were able to do that," Lillard said.
"I think we ran that play three times in a row, and the second one (Gobert) helped us and I was supposed to set a screen for Ant coming out and Dame saw an opening and passed it to me. I just went up and tried to put it through the rim. My back is feeling a lot better so I was able to get a few dunks tonight," Eubanks said on his posterizing dunk over Minnesota's Rudy Gobert.
Second chance: Despite going against Gobert, the Blazers battled hard all night on the offensive glass, picking up nine offensive boards in the first half for 17 second chance points. Portland got five more in the second half to finish with 22 while holding Minnesota to only four second chance points.
Still small: While Portland worked hard on the offensive glass, it struggled defensively down low still as the Timberwolves had 38 points in the paint at the half and finished with 56 for the game. Gobert did his thing with 24 points and nine rebounds.
Getting to the line: Portland's offense works best when it's getting downhill to the bucket, and Lillard forced that point on Saturday night with 15 trips to the line and hit them all. As a team, the Blazers went 25 of 28 from the line, and it was needed on a night where Minnesota had its offense rolling pretty well for most of the game.
Game grade: B
Can't give the Blazers an A after giving up 118 points, but the switch in the third quarter defensively and with the amount of energy they came out with was a big positive. It was the kind of play fans got used to from the 10-4 start. From Eubanks' slams to Hart hustle plays and Lillard or Simons' 3-pointers, that second half is what Billups hopes Blazer basketball can be. The mood was pretty joyful after the game within the locker room after suffering a tough loss earlier in the week in Denver. Those kinds of wins after a tough loss can show the fortitude of a squad in Billups' eyes, and that's a positive sign moving forward that one bad night won't deflate this team.
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