Given that the circumstances of Saturday night’s game seemed eerily familiar, that the Timberwolves had squandered a 17-point lead for the second time this season in a home loss to Portland, it likely wasn’t coincidence that Ricky Rubio wanted to talk about learning lessons.
“It seems like when we get to a point where we are up 10, 12, we kind of relax,” the Wolves point guard said after the Trail Blazers won 109-103 at Target Center. “We have to learn off our mistakes. It’s something that hurts, it’s painful. We have to look for some solutions.”
The Wolves led by 13 at halftime and by 17 early in the third quarter when Kevin Garnett took a pass from Rubio and hit a 20-foot jumper that gave him his 26,000th career point.
With Portland’s backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum heating up, the Wolves melted down. They were outscored 60-43 the rest of the way. The Wolves offense, so efficient in the first half, seized up. The Wolves defense, stingy for much of the season, broke down.
It all led to a second consecutive home loss and dropped the Wolves’ record at home to 2-8 as they wasted a 27-point, 12-rebound effort from rookie center Karl-Anthony Towns.
“Yeah, it was basically the same scenario,” said Andrew Wiggins, who scored 15 points in the first half but only two points in the second.
“They made shots,” Wolves interim coach Sam Mitchell said. “We turned the ball over and didn’t get some good possessions. Just made some careless plays.”
The idea was to hold down Portland’s dynamic guard duo of Lillard and McCollum. The two had just eight points on 3-for-15 shooting when Garnett’s jumper swished through the net. But the two — who had a combined 52 points in Portland’s victory in the Wolves’ home opener Nov. 2 — scored 19 points on 10-for-17 shooting the rest of the way. McCollum scored 12 points in the third quarter as the Blazers trimmed that 17-point deficit to two entering the fourth. And then Lillard scored nine points in the fourth to help put the game away.
Lillard finished with 19 points for Portland, which shot 56.8 percent in the second half. Al-Farouq Aminu had 16 points. Ed Davis (13), Meyers Leonard (14) and Allen Crabbe (11) were in double figures off the bench.
Gorgui Dieng (15) and Zach LaVine (12) were productive off the Wolves bench. Rubio had nine points, 15 assists and six rebounds.
Down seven with two minutes left, Dieng scored on a runner. After McCollum missed, Towns took a Rubio pass and buried a three-pointer with 1:13 left. The Wolves forced a shot clock violation at the other end. Coming out of a time out, Towns had another wide-open three, but it rimmed out. Seconds later, Lillard drove for a game-sealing score with 37.3 seconds to go.
“It felt excellent,” Towns said of the missed three. “I was already thinking in my mind about celebrating, what I was going to do. And it just didn’t go. My team trusts me to make that shot, take us home. But I just didn’t deliver tonight.”
He wasn’t alone. After making 21 of 39 first-half shots, the Wolves were 17-for-44 in the second half. The Blazers outscored the Wolves 63-44 over the final two quarters.
“Some nights, in certain parts of the game, you’ve got to score,” Mitchell said. “We didn’t score enough. Some of their guys made some shots and we didn’t score enough.”