PORTLAND, ORE. – Even as winter rain still fell, Portland coach Terry Stotts declared Wednesday a good day in “Blazerville,” and that was before Trail Blazers All-Star guard Damian Lillard went out and proved him even more right.
Lillard celebrated being named to his third NBA All-Star Game a day earlier with a 123-114 victory over the Timberwolves. He scored 31 points on 9-for-17 shooting, including six made three-pointers.
He made three of those threes and scored 13 of those points in a lopsided 43-30 third quarter that set the Blazers’ scoring high in a quarter for this season.
“The third quarter was a problem for us,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “If you go in and you try to trade buckets, you’re going to be in trouble, particularly on the road. It’s a problem.”
Playing without injured star Jimmy Butler finally proved problematic as well, but guard Jamal Crawford returned after he missed two games because of a sprained big toe and played 20 minutes off the bench.
The Wolves lost to the Trail Blazers for the first time this season, finally wilting without Butler after they gutted out consecutive victories without him Saturday against Toronto and Monday in Los Angeles over the Clippers.
Before the game, Thibodeau contended his team has more than enough talent to win even without Butler.
But they lost steam quickly after a 54-54 halftime tie, when Lillard seemingly scored from wherever he shot.
“We have to be able to play through any situation,” said Wolves center Karl-Anthony Town, who, like Lillard, was chosen by Western Conference coaches as a reserve Tuesday to play in next month’s All-Star Game. “Jimmy is an amazing player, one of the best in the league, obviously. When you lose him, obviously you put a huge task at hand for us, but we have to be able to go out there and get the job done.
“Like [Thibodeau] says, we have more than enough talent in this locker room to get the job done, and I have total confidence in everyone in this locker room to get the job done. We just have to do it.”
They failed when they first couldn’t stop Lillard, then couldn’t stop CJ McCollum (28 points) behind him.
And even Pat Connaughton — a third-year swingman from Notre Dame — filled behind those two, scoring 12 points off the bench that included a springy alley-oop dunk.
“It’s easy to play out there when you’ve got an All-Star on the team,” Connaughton said.
Seventh-place Portland moved closer to the fourth-place Wolves in the West. The Blazers now are four games away.
Lillard made his six three-pointers, McCollum contributed four more and Connaughton had two himself.
Even forward-turned-center Al-Farouq Aminu — assigned to shadow Towns for the night — made a three.
Lillard’s six threes were as many as the entire Wolves team. The Blazers outscored the Wolves 51-18 overall on threes made.
“Thibs says we’ve got a lot of players, a lot of people who can hoop,” said Wolves forward Andrew Wiggins, who followed consecutive season scoring highs of 29 points against the Raptors and 40 against the Clippers with a team-high 24 points that matched his negative-24 plus-minus rating. “Obviously, we miss Jimmy, but we scored 100-something points. That’s enough to win any NBA game. It starts with defense.”
If it helps any, Lillard suggested the Blazers’ third quarter might have been their best in two years.
“When we watch film in training camp, if we could just watch that whole quarter we would say this is how we want to play,” Lillard said. “This is how the ball needs to move, this is the pace we need to have. That was a showcase. It was a great display of Blazers basketball.”
And a great day in Blazerville, too.