The Minnesota Timberwolves beat the Portland Trail Blazers 110-109, topping a team holding onto the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Portland guard Damian Lillard ultimately could have put the Wolves away with a buzzer-beater but missed the two-point jumper, which would have created separation between the Trail Blazers and the Denver Nuggets in the race for the final postseason seed.
“There were two pretty good options, so we figured it’s gonna be one of the two,” head coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau said when asked about the final shot, referring to Lillard and C.J McCollum. “And they’re both big shot-makers, and that puts a lot of pressure. And they do a really good job, like most of their plays, there’s more than one option on it. And that’s what stretches you out.”
Right next door the Minnesota Twins were blowing out the Kansas City Royals on Opening Day. On television, the University of North Carolina and Gonzaga were battling for the National Championship. And Portland had recently beat Minnesota 112-100 back on March 25 in a game that was more lopsided than the score would indicate, so forgive fans if this game got lost in the mix, especially since the Wolves were eliminated from playoff contention on Saturday.
Still the 14,677 who witnessed this game got to see a win over a Portland team that is in the thick of the playoff race.
“I expect them to be professional,” said Thibodeau. “We have a lot that we’re playing for, in terms us building habits, improving. This isn’t about taking days off, relaxing and having a good time. This is about, we didn’t make the playoffs, so if we want to end that, we’ve gotta put the work into it.”
This game seemed to follow a similar pattern to the loss to the Sacramento Kings on Saturday. Minnesota got off to a quick lead, finishing the first quarter, 29-23, the bench — which only had one player with a positive plus-minus (Omri Casspi) — lost the lead and Portland dominated the second quarter, 34-20.
The narrative changed, however, after halftime when the Wolves dominated on defense and outscored the Blazers 37-26.
“The second half was better,” said Thibodeau. “That’s a team that puts a lot of pressure on you. You can’t let your guard down, at all, with those guards, the way they shoot the ball and spread you out, and they moved it quickly.”
Wolves remain unbeaten all-time in make-up games.
— Jim Petersen (@JimPeteHoops) April 4, 2017
Portland was 11-32 (34.4 percent) from the three-point line, and Minnesota dominated them in the paint, outscoring them 56-36. Karl-Anthony Towns (34 points, 12 rebounds) and Andrew Wiggins (29 points) carried the team offensively, but had no assists on the night.
“The thing is when you get doubled, and you do kick out, you gotta make shots. I thought we got rid of it, and we went through a stretch where we weren’t making shots, and so that was a problem,” said Thibodeau.
“As long as they are moving the ball, making the right play and oftentimes we’re kicking to Ricky on the cut, and then Ricky makes a play from there. I think it takes advantage of what Ricky does well, and so that’s what we wanted to do.”
Blazers led 96-96 but missed 11 of their final 15 shots over the final 8:39.
— Alan Horton (@WolvesRadio) April 4, 2017
In the end, a win like this comes too late in the season to make a difference in Minnesota’s playoff chances. But a game-to-game adjustment on defense, and not allowing poor play to leak into the second half like they did against Sacramento, was a good sign — and a bit of a silver lining.
Here is the Fox Sports North feed of Thibodeau’s press conference:
Rubio echoed much of Thibodeau’s sentiments, but looked a bit pained when playoffs were brought up. He’s been adamant that he wants to get there for the first time in his career sooner than later.
Towns, as you can see in the video below, wore a Wolves hat and a Twins jacket — recognizing the Opening Day game played next door to the Target Center. He talked about the importance of winning now and what the team is building towards in the future.