PORTLAND, ORE. – In the grand scheme of things, on a night that swung wildly from one extreme to another, Portland’s 8-0 run that ended the first half in Sunday night’s 108-97 comeback victory over the Timberwolves at Moda Center might not seem like much, but …
The way the Wolves have finished quarters and halves this season — or rather not finished them — is a recurring theme. On Sunday night in a game when both teams played shorthanded, they allowed the Trail Blazers reason for hope in the first half’s final three minutes after the Wolves led by as many as 18 points. They eventually trailed by 16, only one night after thumping Utah as star Kevin Love recorded his first career triple-double.
This time, Love lost a scorer’s duel to Portland’s second-year star point guard Damian Lillard 32-31.
This time, Love followed Saturday’s 37-point, 12-rebound, 10-assist performance with his fifth consecutive 30-point game — a franchise record, surpassing Kevin Garnett — but not a single assist, as the Blazers were determined to take away Love’s touchdown passes down the court to streaking Corey Brewer.
“That was something they did,” Love said. “All 94 feet, I’ve seen every defense in the world this season.”
And this time, the Blazers got physical late in the first half, producing that 8-0 run that cut a 60-44 deficit with 2:26 left to just 60-52.
It was a turnabout that transformed the evening from silence when the Wolves made eight of their first nine shots and seemingly did as they pleased for the first 21 minutes, until the Blazers got themselves back in it and turned the evening in a rollicking party after halftime.
It also ended the Wolves’ winning streak at three games.
“I thought we played hard,” coach Rick Adelman said of a team that once again was without Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Martin and Ronny Turiaf, this time on the second night of back-to-back games. “But we got tired.”
A Blazers team that itself played without All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge used a 22-5 run that ended the first half and began the second and reversed the game, building a lead that reached 108-92 late in the fourth quarter.
Portland coach Terry Stotts credited second-year forward Thomas Robinson’s lively performance off the bench — 14 points and 18 rebounds along with his physical play against Love, particularly in the first half’s waning minutes — for changing the game.
“His toughness with Kevin Love, I thought it started at the end of the first half,” Stotts said of Robinson. “The way we finished the first half really set the table for the second half and Thomas had a lot to do with that.”
Unable to finish out the first half strong, the Wolves were outscored 32-20 in a third quarter, when the Blazers further turned up the defense and awakened the home crowd from its slumber with a show that included Robinson’s soaring block on Brewer’s rising dunk attempt at one end and little-used Will Barton’s thunderous alley-oop dunk at the other.
The Blazers made six of their 13 three-pointers in that third quarter alone.
Adelman lamented how his team rushed its offense and didn’t move the ball in the first half’s final three minutes.
“It got them back in the game,” he said. “Once the crowd gets into it, and they get some energy and they start making threes, the thing changed.”
It changed for good in the third quarter, after the Wolves briefly built their lead back to 11 in the opening seconds before Portland scored 19 of the next 27 points.
“We’ve had times like that this season,” Love said, citing a game against Atlanta when the Wolves let the Hawks back into the game just before halftime.
“If they don’t have that run and we get a couple stops, a couple buckets, we’re looking pretty good. So things like that happen.
‘‘It was unfortunate for us, but we know we have another chance Tuesday [at Phoenix] to step up.”