blzrs_wlvs.jpeg

A Portland loss was all but written before the night had even started. Prior to tonight’s game the Minnesota Timberwolves paid tribute to Flip Saunders—their coach and president of basketball operations—who passed away just over a week ago after complications with Hodgkin lymphoma. It was going to be an emotional night for all involved, with the Blazers playing uphill from the opening tip.

That the Blazers found themselves in an early 34-17 hole wasn’t surprising.

What was surprising was what Portland was able to do after their early deficit. Despite Minnesota’s raucous home crowd the Blazers clawed back into this one and came away with a 106-101 victory, their first road win on the year. The power of Meyers Leonard’s mustache is real.

Damian Lillard kept things as close as he could early. He dropped ten points in the first frame and played like the only Portland starter unfazed by the pre-game tribute. He would finish the night with a game-high 34 points, but more than that he set the tone early for the Blazers as they struggled to find footing against some impassioned play from Minnesota.

It wasn’t until the second quarter that the Blazers finally started clicking, carrying over an 11-0 run that nearly evened things up. How freaking great has Al-Farouq Aminu been so far? It seemed like a signing that wouldn’t move the needle much, but that contract is going to be such a bargain next year once the overall cap spikes. He was everywhere tonight—setting screens, grabbing boards, and even knocking down a few outside jumpers. He’ll never be a superstar, but he’s a perfect complimentary piece. This team may have been gutted over the off-season, but damn if I don’t have faith that Neil Olshey can build it back up again with signings like this. And Ed Davis. Bless you, Sleepy Ed.

The third quarter belonged solely to Dame. He went off, dropping fifteen in all the ways you would expect—attacking the rim, getting to the foul line, and hitting from distance. Tough leaners or up and unders, it didn’t matter. Dude was locked in.

Support The Portland Mercury

So locked in that, with just a few minutes left to go in the fourth, he pulled up for a deep three without any hesitation. Just walked right into it about as soon as he crossed half court. The triple gave Portland a ten point lead, capped a late 12-2 run, and all but sealed the victory.

Minny wasn’t quite done, though, not on Flip’s night. After a couple of Portland turnovers, a three-pointer from Karl Anthony-Towns (?!!?), and a few long replays in Secaucus, the Wolves found themselves down three with the ball and just ten seconds to play. They tried to get Kevin Martin a three-point look, but Allen Crabbe was able to get his claws all over it. His strip of Martin, and the ensuing fast break bucket, officially sealed things for the Blazers.

On a night where a lot went right for Portland, the one player who had it rough was Meyers. He was just 1-7 from the field, including 0-4 from deep, and Terry Stotts opted to keep him on the bench in favor of Noah Vonleh during the fourth. It was announced after the game that the Blazers and Meyers weren’t able to reach a contract extension before the midnight deadline, so he’ll be a restricted free agent come next year. Not that surprising, but something to keep an eye on as he continues to struggle with his shot here early.