PORTLAND, Ore. – The Timberwolves were getting by without Robert Covington for most of Saturday night.
The defensive stalwart was a late scratch because of right knee soreness, meaning the Wolves had to kick off their four-game road trip without one of the players who has rejuvenated their season.
But despite a gutty effort, the Wolves defense lapsed late, allowing Portland’s Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum overtake them in a 113-105 Trail Blazers victory at the Moda Center.
“They got two guys that steer the wheel and if you let them steer it, they’ll get to their destination,” rookie Josh Okogie said. “You try to get them off the wheel.”
They finally got a hold of it with the score tied 105-105 and under a minute to play. Lillard buried a three-pointer from the left win off a screen and following a Derrick Rose miss on the other end, McCollum buried another three to clinch it.
Lillard finished with 28 points while McCollum had 19. Andrew Wiggins finished with 20 for the Wolves while Karl-Anthony Towns had 19 points and 10 rebounds.
Perhaps the Wolves could have used Covington in the final minute, because it sounded like the defense wasn’t what the Wolves wanted on those plays.
“We didn’t do what we were supposed to do,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I’ll leave it at that.”
Rose (18 points on an inefficient 9-for-25 shooting) was more specific.
“Our big is supposed to be there. That’s how I feel,” Rose said of Lillard’s go-ahead shot. “It was supposed to be a trap and we just have to make sure we trap them.”
On Lillard’s three, Towns was in the lane while his man, Jusuf Nurkic (22 points) set a screen on Jeff Teague. Lillard came around the screen and Teague couldn’t recover in time. Towns appeared to get tied up in the lane on the initial pin down screen from McCollum that set Nurkic free to begin the sequence.
But the Wolves had their chances outside of the final minute. They even led 102-96 with 3:53 to play, but could only muster three points the rest of the night.
An old problem from earlier in the season crept back on the Wolves — rebounding. The Blazers outrebounded them 53-40, with 14 coming on the offensive end for 20 second-chance points.
“It was just one of those nights,” forward Taj Gibson said. “They were getting to a lot of loose balls, lot of long rebounds. Lot of long shots going out to the three-point line, almost half court. It was just effort plays and getting to the loose balls.”
Covington could have helped with that. Thibodeau didn’t offer much on Covington’s status except to say: “We’ll see. He said he felt good, but we’ll see.”
Covington appeared to have no issues walking back to the team bus after the game, and he participated in shoot-around earlier in the day.
Covington’s absence meant one lucky Wolves bench player was promoted into Thibodeau’s nine-man rotation. That was Okogie, who logged his first meaningful minutes since Nov. 14. Okogie provided his usual brand of frenetic energy in scoring eight points in 26 minutes, which included a memorable play in which he threw the ball to himself off the backboard for a layup.
“For not playing for a while, I thought there was some good, some things that he can do better,” Thibodeau said. “He did a good job though.”
The Wolves had done a good enough job get the lead late in the fourth quarter, only to have it slip away. Perhaps Covington would’ve made the difference. Perhaps not, but the end result was a tough loss to take to another contending team in a competitive Western Conference.
“It was just a tough game to lose,” Rose said.