The officials at Target Center on Saturday night must've enjoyed being in the company of the Timberwolves, because they called so many fouls and took their time on so many reviews that the game dragged on for nearly 2½ hours.
It took that long for the inevitable to play out in a 125-121 Portland victory over the Wolves. It was inevitable because the Wolves made their bed for the evening early by recording seven of their 18 turnovers in the first quarter and committing 15 first-half fouls. Portland took advantage of that march to the line by hitting 26 of 30. The Wolves also benefited from the whistle-happy referees early but converted only 23 of their 31 attempts.
In the final minutes, Carmelo Anthony and Damian Lillard refused to let the Wolves back in it, and despite a spirited effort from the Minnesota defense, Anthony, previously thought to be over the hill, hit enough difficult shots and Lillard created enough easy ones for the Trail Blazers to skate by with a victory. Anthony finished with 26 points off the bench while Lillard had 25 and 10 assists.
"Our start was so poor," Wolves coach Chris Finch said. "The turnovers gave them such a cushion that we had to fight back. We gave them the lead and they made tough shots."
Finch installed some new defensive principles in recent few days. He would like to see the Wolves to do more running around and less thinking on that end of the floor. He wants players to use their athleticism to compensate for whatever mental mistakes they make.
There weren't many glaring issues beyond a ragged start, but in a key final possession, Lillard drove to the rim, found Anthony near the top of the key, and Anthony found a wide-open Derrick Jones Jr. for a dunk that put Portland ahead 122-117 with 43.9 seconds remaining to seal the game.
"I was pretty pleased with the defense for the most part," Finch said. "We were draped on them, they made tough shots and we missed a few when we needed them. I was pleased the way we turned the game around to our favor, but it was our start that really did us in."
It negated a 34-point, 10-rebound performance from Karl-Anthony Towns, who helped the Wolves (8-30) surge back in the third quarter with 15 points after trailing by as many as 13 early. That was in part because of the fouls, and the Wolves are the third-worst team in the league when it comes to fouling. Towns said the Wolves have to have better technique if they are going to improve that.
"We got to make them not call it," Towns said. "Doing our job early, not giving them the lanes we gave them ... showing our hands, making it very difficult for them to have to make those calls. So we just got to execute at a higher level offensively and defensively, and it starts with our technique."
The bench helped the Wolves come all the way back by the end of the third quarter to take a 94-93 lead. Leading that unit for the second consecutive game was Jaylen Nowell, who scored 17 Saturday after netting a career-high 28 Thursday. Nowell played so well that Finch put him out there with the closing group, something Nowell hadn't done in his two-year career.
"I just wanted to make sure that I didn't do anything dumb," Nowell said.
He said he did when he didn't shoot a three-pointer when he should have. But Nowell shouldn't hang his head too much.
"Recently the bench has come through big time," Towns said. "Everyone from Naz Reid, JO [Josh Okogie] to Jaylen and Jaden [McDaniels], everyone in between, they've done a great job of holding the starters accountable and picking up the slack whenever we're not doing our job to the fullest of our abilities."
While the Wolves didn't win the game in the final minutes, they didn't lose it either. That happened earlier.