Wolves have had a disappointing start to the season but have been playing better of late even without Karl-Anthony Towns, who will miss at least a month with a sprained calf.
Damian Lillard didn’t have the best shooting night (9-22) but was a perfect 15-15 from the foul line and finished with a game-high 36 points to go with 8 assists and 2 steals. Anfernee Simons added 31 points in a fantastic response to his worst game of the season, emerging victorious in the ‘Battle of ‘Ants'” over Wolves’ Anthony Edwards, who finished with 26 points.
The Blazers were determined to get Simons on offense early and he was able to deliver. Simons put Portland on the board with a dunk on an out-of-bounds play and followed it up with an angle three a few trips later. It was necessary, as both teams were eager to let the long ball fly despite meager results. Jusuf Nurkic and Jaden McDaniels traded a pair of misses and almost halfway through the period, Minnesota held just a tiny 9-7 advantage.
After Simons went to the bench, it was Lillard’s turn to take over as a thorn in Wolves’ side. Although he started 0-3 from deep, Dame was an effective driver to get into the teeth of defense and did most of his damage from the foul line. Lillard was a perfect 7-7 from the charity strip in the quarter and finished with 11 points, keeping pace with the Blazers as Wolves began to warm up.
Drew Eubanks found himself the recipient of pennies from Lillard to set up easy dunks, but Naz Reid responded to them right away with mid-range buckets as the reserves were essentially playing from a standstill.
A few more giveaways followed by an acrobatic circus shot and -1 from Lillard in the final minute made the difference, giving Portland a 32-27 lead after one.
Upon his return, Simons continued to be the guy for the Blazers, as he and Jerami Grant combined to score the first 15 points in the quarter for the home team. Simons just looked to have a little more pep in his step as he rushed around the picks and fired the ball confidently, converting a nice running floater into the lane followed by three back to backs without hesitation .
Anthony Edwards had the answer on the other end, knocking down a pair of triples himself, and along with D’Angelo Russell began rolling Minnesota’s offense. Two threes from Russell briefly brought Wolves within 2 at 49-47 midway through the period, and after a Portland time-out that momentum only grew stronger.
A one-handed alley-oop dunk from Shaedon Sharpe got the crowd on their feet, but the enthusiasm was quickly deflated by back-to-back easy buckets to the rim from Reid and Edwards, the latter giving Minnesota its first lead of the quarter.
More free throws from Dame helped stop the bleeding, but Wolves were able to hold a 66-65 lead before the break.
For most of the period, Portland was stuck catching Edwards, which at times must have felt like stopping a bulldozer with tissue paper. Long and built like a center linebacker with a cross dribble, Edwards is a charge and more, and when he decides to drop his head and attack the basket, he’s very hard to slow down. On nights when his outside shot falls, as it did tonight, that task becomes even more daunting. He had 13 points in the third as Wolves slowly increased their lead to 10 points with 5 minutes remaining.
But a furious end to the quarter saw the Blazers close the gap behind Lillard, Drew Eubanks and, yes, more free throws. A tomahawk jam from Eubanks on Rudy Gobert on a trick pass from Dame with 14 seconds left reclaimed the Portland lead at 94-92 and set the stage for a hotly contested final frame.
Simons kept rolling it to start the fourth, converting on a running floater to open the period, then sweeping the way for a Kareem-like sky-hook that extended the Blazers’ lead to 8-105. -97.
Minnesota responded by forcing the ball to Gobert downstairs, who was able to use his Gumby-like length to beat Nurkic one-on-one, but at this point Wolves needed more than two hard-earned.
A contested straight three from Lillard was the game of the game, giving Portland a 118-113 lead with two and a half minutes remaining that they would never give up. From there, the Blazers were able to milk the clock and play the free throw game to hang on and get the win.
Stay tuned for our extended recap coming soon!
The Blazers will get another home rematch against the Wolves on Monday night at 7 p.m. PT.