Last season, Saturday's type of matchup against a lowly Minnesota Timberwolves team could have easily been a trap game for the Portland Trail Blazers.
And even though Portland once again struggled with consistency for all 48 minutes, this year’s team was able to pull out a 125-121 victory on the road.
It took “a good effort” as Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts pointed out postgame.
But, it also took some Carmelo Anthony fourth-quarter magic.
And more than anything and what Damian Lillard addressed after the win is –
This game showed a lot of growth.
The Blazers jumped out to a quick 33-24 lead at the end of the first quarter thanks to their energy on both ends.
Lillard went into facilitator mode early with Enes Kanter and Derrick Jones Jr. combining for 15 of the Blazers’ first 18 points.
But with Karl Anthony Towns scoring in bunches in the third quarter, the Timberwolves took the lead with 3.0 second remaining in the third.
“Enes gave a good effort, but it was a tough matchup for him,” Stotts explained as to why he stuck with the small ball lineup of Robert Covington on Towns in the final period.
“RoCo played with Towns, he knows him. We just felt like we were better off trying to give it a different look.”
The Trail Blazers All-Star point guard knows that despite the team not rolling over late in the game, this squad still needs to work on playing a complete game.
“We played well in stretches,” Lillard said. “But I think something that we’ve struggled with all season long is being able to sustain that level of focus and that level of high-quality play. We’ll do it for a quarter and then we’ll have half of the next quarter where we’ll do it and then the next six minutes were it’ll be a huge drop off… We’ve played well in stretches, we just haven’t been able to sustain it and do it consistent enough.”
Minnesota outscored Portland by 10 in the third quarter.
Melo not only willed the Blazers to a victory, he also accomplished yet another big milestone as he passed NBA legend Hakeem Olajuwon on the NBA all-time leading scoring list to move up to No. 11.
But it was Anthony’s 24 points, eight of which came in the final period, along with the veteran’s playmaking that helped the Blazers get over the hump Saturday.
At times, Saturday’s contest had more of a pick-up game feel with neither team applying very much pressure on the defensive end.
But overall, Coach Stotts was pleased with his team as the Blazers improved to 22-15 on the season and 11-8 on the road.
Portland will now face Minnesota in the second night of a back-to-back on Sunday. The Blazers and T-Wolves are scheduled to tip-off at 5:00p.m. PST on NBCSNW.
Melo knows it won’t be easy.
“We know how hard it is to sweep a team, especially on their homecourt, playing them twice back-to-back.
Sunday will be another good chance to show even more growth.