Blazers Get Win By Challenging Each Other, Then The Timberwolves

PORTLAND -- The Trail Blazers looked as though they might drop yet another game at home to a Northwest Division foe with the Timberwolves taking an 89-80 lead with just under four minutes to play in the third quarter of Saturday night’s game at Moda Center.

While Minnesota, after scoring 39 points in the second quarter on 63 percent shooting, weren’t exactly scoring at will, they were having an easy enough go of it that they seemed on the cusp of blowing the game open before the start of the fourth.

But after not challenging the Timberwolves all that much on the defensive end, the Trail Blazers started challenging each other late in the third quarter.

“In the huddle, I’m just like ‘You know, as long as we keep going back and forth, it’s going to be a game just like the Denver game where we setting ourselves for either we gonna break they heart or they going to break ours,’” recounted Damian Lillard. “‘And the first team that decides to take some pride and to sit down and tighten up, be on a string, help each other out, rebound, that’s the team that’s going to win.’ I feel like we received that message just as a group.”

Trail Blazers 124, Timberwolves 118 | Dec. 10, 2022 | Game Highlights

Soon after they started holding each other accountable in the huddle, the Trail Blazers would go on a 23-5 run, turning a nine-point deficit into a nine-point lead that would set Portland up to secure the 124-118 victory in front of a crowd of 18,324 at Moda Center.

“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,” said Trail Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups. “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 that third quarter. We kind of rode it on through.”

While neither team were all that stalwart on the defensive end Saturday night -- both teams shot better than 52 percent from the field for the game -- Portland held Minnesota to 2-of-10 shooting and forced five turnovers between the 3:58 mark of the third quarter and the 8:39 mark of the fourth. Those seven and a half minutes were enough to make the difference.

“Those are the moments where we’ve got to decide what type of team we’re going to be,” said Lillard. “The game turned at that point, end of the third, we had a great start to the fourth quarter. I feel like that was pretty much the game.”

The Timberwolves would continue to threaten the lead for the remainder of the fourth, though Portland would never relinquish the advantage thanks in large part to Lillard and Anfernee Simons combining to go 7-of-11 from the field for 19 points in in the final frame.

Anfernee Simons Highlights (31 points) | Portland Trail Blazers | Dec. 10, 2022

“We know it’s going to be tough every night, this was another one that came down to the wire and we’ve got to be the team that makes plays on the defensive end and on the offensive end,” said Lillard. “And tonight, we was able to do that and now we’ve got to get ready to see them again Monday.”

The Trail Blazers are now 14-12 overall and 6-6 at home this season. Portland has now won three of their last four games and sit at sixth in the Western Conference, 3.5 games back from the first-place New Orleans Pelicans.

Lillard went just 9-of-22 from the field and 3-of-11 from three but 15-of-15 from the line for 36 points to go with eight assists, three rebounds and two steals in 41 minutes. Simons, coming off his worst offensive performance of the season Thursday night versus the Nuggets, shot better than 50 percent from the field to finish with 31 points along with three rebounds in 35 minutes.

Saturday’s game was the first time both Lillard and Simons scored at least 30 points in the same game.

Jerami Grant tallied 17 points, seven rebounds and two assists in 39 minutes. Josh Hart filled up the stats sheet as per usual, finishing with 11 points, eight rebounds, four assists and two steals in 33 minutes. Jusuf Nurkic pulled down a game-high 15 rebounds and Drew Eubanks came off the bench to post 10 points on 5-of-5 shooting.

Anthony Edwards led the Timberwolves with 26 points while Rudy Gobert and D’Angelo Russell each contributed 24 in the losing effort.

The teams now have Sunday off before facing off again Monday night at Moda Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.