Blazers End Trip By Falling Just Short In Minnesota

by Casey Holdahl
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The Portland Trail Blazers ended a five-game road trip with a 108-107 loss to the Timberwolves in front of a crowd of 14,187 Monday night at the Target Center.

With the loss, the Trail Blazers fall to 16-14 overall and 9-6 on the road this season. The loss snaps a three-game winning streak while ending their five-game trip with a 3-2 record.

Portland led for most of the game, and took their largest lead of the night at 85-76 going into the fourth quarter. But between 16 points from Jamal Crawford, 11 from Jimmy Butler and a stretch in which the Trail Blazers committed four consecutive turnovers, the Timberwolves were set up to take the advantage when it mattered the most.

That moment came with less than three seconds to play in regulation. After Damian Lillard’s missed layup with 10.9 seconds to play was rebounded by Taj Gibson, the Timberwolves called timeout to move the ball up the floor for what would be their final offensive possession.

Butler got the ball on the play and drive baseline before being fouled by Al-Farouq Aminu with 2.8 seconds to go, sending the All-Star to the line for two go-ahead free throws. Butler make both to give Minnesota a one-point lead, though they left enough time for the Trail Blazers to get one look at a game-winner.

But on the ensuing possessions, Lillard’s three-point attempt was well-contested and the shot well off to send Portland home with the loss.

“We should have been able to put them away but they’re a good team,” said CJ McCollum. “Credit them for keeping it interesting and then stealing it at the end.”

TOP SCORERS

CJ McCollum finished with 20 points on 9-of-17 shooting to go with four assists, two rebounds and two steals in 37 minutes. Jusuf Nurkić also went for 20 points while grabbing seven rebounds and blocking three shots in 28 minutes.

Damian Lillard once again got close to the first triple-double of his career with 17 points, 13 assists and eight rebounds in 37 minutes. Al-Farouq Aminu went 3-of-5 from three before finishing with 13 points and six rebounds, Shabazz Napier came off the bench to score 15 and Ed Davis also got into double figures with 10 points in 20 minutes.

Jimmy Butler led all scorers with 37 points, 11 of which came at the free throw line, to go with six rebounds and four assists. Jamal Crawford scored 16 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter.

THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS A FREE LUNCH OR A FREE THROW IN THE SECOND HALF

You might have noticed there was something missing from the Trail Blazers’ second half performance Monday night in Minneapolis. Despite taking 45 shots in the second half (of which they made 25), the Trail Blazers failed to shoot a single free throw after the intermission. By contrast, the Timberwolves, a team that attempted four fewer field goals in the second half, got 15 free throw attempts.

“We didn’t shoot a free throw in the second half, that hurt,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “I don’t know the last time I’ve ever seen a team not shoot a free throw in a half. That obviously played a part in (the loss).”

What’s more, the Trail Blazers only attempted five free throws in the entire game compared to 21 for the Timberwolves. Jimmy Butler alone attempted 12 free throws, more than double the number that the Trail Blazers took as a team for the entire game.

“At crucial moments, we making plays and trying to score and guys getting hit,” said Damian Lillard. “Guys literally out there grabbing my arms, I got hit in the face one time and it’s like in shooting motion. It’s a clear, easy play and it’s impacting the game. On the last play of the game I’m trying to get open and the guy is hugging me from the back, literally hugging me. There’s three referees out there and somebody got to see it.”

It’s not unheard of for a team to barely get to the free throw line throughout the course of 48 minutes, as both the Pistons and Magic had games this season in which they shot five free throws or fewer. But both those games were blowout losses, not contests in which they led for most of the game, as was the case Monday night for the Trail Blazers.

MESSED AROUND AND (ALMOST) GOT A TRIPLE-DOUBLE (AGAIN)

For the second straight game, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard came *this* close to recording the first triple-double of his career. After going for 18 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds, three short of what is needed to record the sought-after statistical accomplishment, Saturday night in Charlotte, Lillard finished two rebounds short of the triple-double Monday night by finishing the loss with 13 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds in 31 minutes.

What might be the most disappointing aspect of Monday’s game, other than the loss of course, was that Lillard had the entire fourth quarter to grab two rebounds to become the first Trail Blazers to record a triple-double since Nicolas Batum’s on January 8, 2014. But the 6-3 point guard was unable to grab any of the five rebounds Portland pulled down in the final 12 minutes, which probably says something about his willingness to put the good of the team over his own statistical accolades.

Lillard, in his sixth season, is averaging 25.8 points on 42 percent shooting from the field and 35 percent shooting from three, 6.2 assists, 5.0 rebounds and 1.0 steals in 37.1 minutes per game.

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THEY SAID IT

“I think we should have been 4-1 but the reality is 3-2, so not a bad trip. Tightened some things up and try to take advantage of some home games.” — CJ McCollum.

NEXT UP

With another five-game road trip in the books, the Portland Trail Blazers head back to the Moda Center looking for their first road win in over a month. If they’re to end that streak, they’ll have to beat the San Antonio Spurs, one of the best teams in the NBA, in the always-difficult first game back after an extended road trip game Wednesday night at the Moda Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. on NBC Sports Northwest and Rip City Radio 620 AM.