The Minnesota Timberwolves squandered away yet another double-digit lead Thursday night, losing to the Portland Trail Blazers by the score of 105-98. This was the 21st time this season that the Wolves have led by double-digits yet came away with the loss.
With Andrew Wiggins, Ricky Rubio, and Karl-Anthony Towns leading the way and combining to go 13/17 from the field, the Wolves built a 34-20 lead by the end of the first quarter and it seemed as if they were well on their way to victory. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum couldn’t buy a bucket in the opening frame, combining to go 2/10 from the field.
However, the Blazers clawed their way back into the game on the backs of their leaders, Lillard, McCollum…and Allen Crabbe. After starting off slow from beyond the arc, Lillard began utilizing his speed to drive past his defenders – mainly Rubio and occasionally Wiggins – and get to the rim and/or free throw line, while McCollum bounced back from shooting 3/11 in the first half to 3/6 in the second. But it was Allen Crabbe who was the largest driving force behind the Blazers’ comeback. Crabbe finished the evening with 25 points (on 8/10 shooting from deep), five rebounds, and 3 assists off the bench; he simply couldn’t miss. The Blazers out-scored the Wolves 85-64 after the first quarter.
For as hot as Crabbe was, the Wolves were equally cold in the fourth quarter. Entering the frame up 87-80, the Wolves proceeded to shoot 3/20 over the final 12 minutes. It’s not as if they were putting up particularly bad shots; it’s just that none of them were falling. Towns – who finished with 24 points, 16 rebounds, and four assists – had a minuscule amount of touches down the stretch as the Wolves turned to Wiggins to lead the comeback. This isn’t anything new; the Wolves have been doing this all season much to the scorn and ridicule of many a fan and writer.
On one hand, the Wolves will be better in the long-run with the more reps Wiggins gets at leading the offense and comeback in crunch time. But part of leading the offense is getting the ball in the best position to be scored; the Wolves need to get the ball in Towns’ hands more often in crunch time. Tom Thibodeau obviously wants the offense run through Wiggins down the home stretch of games, so don’t expect it to go away. I have no doubt that Wiggins will better refine his end of game leadership with more reps (one season’s worth isn’t nearly enough) and will recognize when to get the ball to Towns and when to call his own number. Wiggins finished with a team-high 36 points, eight rebounds, three assists, and two steals.
The Wolves are next in action Friday night when they take on the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City in the second game of a road back-to-back. Tip is scheduled for 8 p.m.
- Karl-Anthony Towns finished with one three and 16 rebounds putting him at 92 and 940 on the season, respectively. He needs to average 2.0 threes and 15.0 rebounds over the final four games to log the NBA’s first 100 3FGM/100 blocks/1,000 rebound season.
- Shabazz Muhammad wore a headband again tonight. He finished with seven points in 12 minutes.
- The Blazers out-shot the Wolves 14/33 to 4/18 from three. The need for the Wolves to add not only bench depth, but, preferably, three-point shooting bench depth this off-season has never been any more apparent. Zach LaVine currently leads the team in three-point makes with 120 (in 47 games), while Wiggins (98) and Towns (92) are second and third. The Wolves need more players who can come off the bench and shoot consistently as compliments to the Wolves’ core three and tally more than 100 made threes.