Thanks to contributions from some unlikely places the Wolves were able to hang with the 35-win Blazers throughout tonight's contest.
Ricky Rubio was incredibly aggressive and set a new career-high with 25 points in addition to 2 rebounds, 9 assists & 1 steal. Rubio tagged with his only other usual starter: Corey Brewer. Brewer had one of the best games I've ever seen him play. Brew finished with 26 (one shy of tying a season-high and 3 shy of tying a career-high) in addition to 7 rebounds, 2 assists & 1 block. If Rubio was 'aggressive' tonight, I don't even know how to describe Brewer's game. He was relentless as he slashed to the basket, he exerted endless effort on both sides of the ball and he played like someone who had something to prove!
Add to that, the outings from Dante Cunningham, Chase Budinger & Shabazz Muhammad and I've got to admit, I'm glad Minnesota's "Big Three" sat this one out because this was a really fun game to watch.
With so many scorers out and the Wolves in need of offense, Rick Adelman relented and actually gave rookie Shabazz Muhammad an opportunity to play some meaningful minutes. Muhammad responded with a terrific second quarter in which he played 8 minutes and scored 9 points on 4-5 shooting. In addition to that, Shabazz also showed hustle and determination on defense and looked like a guy campaigning for more minutes. Muhammad played a career-high 17 minutes and finished with career-highs in points (12), FG made (4), FG attempted (8), FT made (4) and FT attempted (5).
Chase Budinger broke out of his shooting slump and had his best game of the season as a starter with Corey Brewer on the wing. Chase played a season-high 29 minutes and finished with a season-best 19 points & 5 rebounds on 6-12 shooting, including 3-6 from deep. Once he knocked down his first couple shots, it was clear that it would continue to carry over for Chase and it certainly did! With Martin out until at least after the All-Star break, Chase is going to get a lot more minutes as the starting small forward and let's hope that this breakout game can carry over.
The Wolves hung with the Blazers through three quarters, but at the end of the third the Blazers went on a 8-4 run to tie the game at 83. That was thanks in large part to LaMarcus Aldridge who scored 12 of his 26 points in that third quarter.
The Wolves started the fourth with Barea, Muhammad, Brewer, Hummel & Turiaf. They kept it close for the first four minutes as the score was tied at 87 with 8:07 to play, but the Blazers promptly went on a 13-1 run to take a ten-point; 88-98 lead with 5:28 to play.
Despite Minnesota's scrappy play, they just couldn't get the lead down to more than 5 points over those final five minutes. Despite that, there was no giving in from this Wolves squad. They played the 'foul game' and had some opportunities that they converted and others that they couldn't, but there was no quit in any Wolf tonight.
I despise 'moral victories', but I absolutely LOVED how this Wolves squad played tonight. They were aggressive, they were shorthanded and talent-lacking, but they didn't let the Blazers push them around, they hung tough and they gave it their all. If Love, Martin & Pek can find that kind of grit and the Wolves can carry this kind of effort over into future contests, there's absolutely no reason that they can't begin to stretch some wins together.
Tonight's box score...
Despite being without their two top rebounders (Love & Pek) the Wolves out-rebounded Portland (the #1 rebounding team coming into tonight's game) by a +4. The Wolves also pounded the Blazers in the paint by a +24. The Wolves did force more turnovers, but were unable to capitalize on Portland's miscues and only got 8 points off their 13 turnovers.
In such a close game, there's really not much more to point to than getting more stops or hitting more shots. When you lose a game decided by 7 points in which you battled for 48-straight minutes, there's absolutely nothing to be ashamed of win or lose.
The Wolves are back in action on Monday night vs. the Rockets at the Target Center. That one will tip at 7pmCST. Check back for updates (in the injury report) on the "Kevins" & Pek.