The Portland Trail Blazers won yet another Northwest Division contest at the Moda Center with a 115-104 victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves Saturday night. With the victory, the Trail Blazers matched their win total from last season with three months to go in the regular season.
While the matchup was billed as a showdown between the NBA’s two best power forwards, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Love, it was Trail Blazers small forward Nicolas Batum who provided the highlights early.
Batum, who the Timberwolves tried to acquire via restricted free agency two summers ago, scored Portland’s first five points and finished the first quarter with 11 points, five rebounds and three assists. He would finish the night with 13 points, eight rebounds and five assists in 35 minutes.
“I liked the way Nic came out,” said Stotts. “He was aggressive in transition, took the ball to the basket. But whoever it is, I think that kind of sparks confidence with our team.”
The Timberwolves would counter with Kevin Martin, who almost matched Batum with 10 points in the first quarter. He would stay hot for the duration of the contest, finishing the game as Minnesota’s leading scorer with 30 points on 11 of 22 shooting.
Wesley Matthews would pick up where Batum left off, scoring 10 points in the second quarter to help the Trail Blazers take a 65-57 going into halftime
That lead would evaporate quickly after the intermission with the Timberwolves starting the second half on a 14-5 run to tie the game at 71-71 with 7:23 to play in the quarter. But Portland would answer back, outscoring Minnesota 16-10 from that point to take a six-point lead into the fourth quarter.
Portland would start the fourth quarter with another run by outscoring Minnesota 18-7 to open up a 105-88 lead with 5:31 to play in regulation. And the Timberwolves would once again respond with a 9-2 run to cut the lead to 10 with three minutes to play. But the Timberwolves were unable to string together baskets consistently late in the game and the Trail Blazers would hit just enough free throws to come away with a 11-point victory.
Aldridge would finish as Portland’s high scorer with 21 points and six rebounds in 34 minutes the game after putting up a career-high 44 points against the Nuggets on Thursday. His counterpart, who was voted in as a starter for the 2014 Western Conference All-Star roster, finished with 15 points on just four of 12 shooting.
“I thought we were very attentive to how (Love) gets his baskets, as far as they run screens for him,” said Stotts. “LaMarcus did a very good job on him in the post, kept him from getting easy baskets. For him to only have one offensive rebound takes a lot of work because he’s always around. If you do a good job on his post-ups and take away offensive rebounds, that leaves perimeter shooting and I thought we did a good job of not giving him necessarily clean looks.”
While Aldridge described the matchup between himself and Love as a “let down,” the performance from Portland’s bench was anything but, scoring 32 points combined while extending Portland’s lead in the second quarter.
“Our reserves were very good in both halves and made a difference in both halves, the energy, just a little bit of everything,” said Stotts. “Mo (Williams) did a nice job of running the team, C.J. (McCollum) took advantage of his opportunities, Thomas (Robinson) brought energy, Joel (Freeland) battled like he always does, so those guys really made a difference for us.”
Mo Williams led the second unit with 16 points and a team-high six assists in 25 minutes. The Trail Blazers are now 16-2 when Williams scores in double figures.
Thomas Robinson and Joel Freeland did the grunt work for the bench unit, combining for 12 rebounds.
“We’ve got to be consistent with it and come in every game and try to give these guys a lift when they need it or be somewhat neutral when those guys have it going,” said Williams. “Tonight was a night where I thought we won the battle of the bench. We want to be consistent and try to win the battle more nights than some.”
While all but one of the starters finished with a negative +/-, ever player in the bench ended on the positive side, led by Williams (+20), Robinson (+19) and C.J. McCollum (+19), who finished with six points, two rebounds, two assists and two steals in 15 minutes.
“He’s going to have some really, really good nights,” said Williams of his rookie backcourt partner. “Like tonight, he got it going. We went to him and he’s going to have those situations where he’s going to have to knock down the open shot. I thought he did a real good job. Defensively, he had a couple good deflections on his man. He’s doing what he’s supposed to do. He’s going to be a really good player in this league. He’s only going to get better.”
Robin Lopez would finish with his 17th double-double of the season with 15 points, 10 rebounds while also handing out three assists. He scored most of his points in the paint, where Portland outscored Minnesota 60-46, which is their second-highest paint total this season.
Matthews would turn in an 18-point, six-rebound, two-assist performance in 34 minutes and Damian Lillard would struggle shooting the field but still managed to net 14 points and five assists in 33 minutes.
Next up, the Trail Blazers fly to the Bay Area to take on the Golden State Warriors tomorrow at Oracle Arena. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 PM.