It was a familiar scene, with familiar frustrations, that ended with an all-to-common result- a loss. Afterward, the post-game comments were the same as they've been following the tough defeats during this stretch. It was all about getting off to a slow start, coming out flat, falling behind by double figures, and how things have to turn around quickly if this team wants to salvage the season.
Give credit to the Minnesota Timberwolves, who beat the Trail Blazers for the first time at the Rose Garden since 2005. It was their first win over the Blazers anywhere since 2007- a losing streak that had climbed to 16 games. But, that's over now, following Minnesota's 122-110 victory at the Rose Garden.
They followed the scouting report perfectly. I'm sure it says something about hitting the Blazers hard in the mouth off the opening tip, getting them in an early hole, and then details how to spend the final three quarters keeping them down. Minnesota certainly succeeded at the first part that.
The Timberwolves are a pretty good offensive team, but not a great one. In the first quarter of this game they looked like the Miami Heat. They shot 68 percent from the field, hit 8 of 10 three pointers, and scored a whopping 40 points. This, from a team that averages 97 points per game. The Trail Blazers were flat-footed, not rotating to open shooters, and it looked like pre-game warmups for the T-Wolves- except they don't hit that many shots in warmups.
I'd go through and detail the final three quarters of this game, but it's probably not necessary. This game was about the start, and those first 12 minutes. We've said that a lot this season.
The Trail Blazers did rally back, and actually took a lead in the second quarter. It looked for a second like they had dodged an early bullet and would pull themselves together and perhaps even extend their winning streak over this Minnesota team. But, this is the NBA. If you let a team come into your building and do whatever they like right from the start and build a big lead, you then have to play perfect basketball to rest of the way to charge back.
It was another of the nights where the Trail Blazers looked surprised that an opponent would come out hungry, like sharks smelling blood in the water. Guess what? That's what happens when word gets out that you're struggling. No one feels sorry for you. And, the Trail Blazers should have known that Minnesota would be plenty motivated from the opening bell.
The proper way to deal with that? Remind them that they are playing in your building, and that you've beaten them 16-straight times, and that streak is not about to end. Start the game with energy, enthusiasm, and scrappy play. We did see that, which was nice, but it didn't start until Portland was trailing by 14. By that point, the Timberwolves were shooting 70 percent, were brimming with confidence, and you were dealing with a huge problem.
For the game Minnesota shot 60 percent from the field, and posted a season-high 122 points. Again, this team averages 97 per game, and you let them beat their average by 25 points, on your own home court.
Before the game we were talking a lot about Kevin Love, and how he had never really had a good game against the Blazers in his hometown. Give him credit, he certainly has now. He scored 42 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and stayed in until the very end trying to bag a new career high. They not only wanted to end their losing streak, but were out to embarrass the Blazers. These teams play again on Wednesday in Minnesota. Perhaps the Blazers will remember this, and will use it as motivation.
For the first time, in a long time this late in the season, the Trail Blazers find themselves below the .500 mark. Unlike last season, when they also got off to a slow start, there isn't a lot of time to get things corrected. There is time, but it's running out quickly. After a lot of the frustrating losses, especially at home lately, we've wondered if that was the loss that angers the Blazers and causes them to circle the wagons. It hasn't happened yet. And, now they've got one game left on this home stand before opening a brutal 7-game 13-day road trip back east. Maybe a long road trip is what this team needs right now.
Next up, it's New Orleans on Monday. Their game plan? Hit the Blazers hard off the opening tip, get them down, and break their confidence. It's yet another opportunity for the Blazers to respond. Will they?