MINNEAPOLIS — For the Portland Trail Blazers, Saturday night was not just another game. Not after losing in overtime on Friday night. And not after it became clear exactly who was not going to be in uniform for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
This was very much a game that the Blazers had to win. They needed to salvage a .500 road trip. And they had to take advantage of Minnesota being without its three leading scorers, including All-Star Kevin Love.
“We felt that way even if they had all their guys,” Portland forward LaMarcus Aldridge said. “This was a must-win either way.”
The Blazers, who had lost four of six, did get a 117-110 victory, but it was certainly closer than expected and the backcourt points came from an unexpected source.
Aldridge scored 26 points and rookie guard C.J. McCollum came off the bench when guard Damian Lillard got in foul trouble to score 19 for the Blazers.
“It was a difficult game for both teams to play,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “It was the fourth game in five nights for them and not having all of their guys. For us coming off of the loss last night, I think we had a little trouble getting it going. It’s good to get out of here with a win and good to end the road trip 2-2.”
Minnesota, which also played without shooting guard Kevin Martin and center Nikola Pekovic because of injuries, kept the game close for three quarters and led early in the fourth quarter before the Blazers rallied.
Aldridge scored six points in an 11-1 run midway through the fourth quarter that put the game away. His jumper with 5:37 left gave capped the spurt and gave Portland a 98-88 lead.
“They were making a run and they were kind of climbing back, but that was big for us to not give them too much confidence and get our confidence back,” said Aldridge, who sat out the game’s final 90 seconds because of some pain that he would not elaborate about.
That run was enough to finally put away a Timberwolves team that gave great effort and kept the game closer than many expected. Minnesota never got within five points down the stretch and the Blazers were able to end their four-game road trip on a winning note.
“Our guys played their butts off,” Minnesota coach Rick Adelman said. “They just took it over in the fourth quarter.”
Portland also got 21 from guard Wesley Matthews and 15 points from forward Nicolas Batum.
While the Timberwolves did not expect to have Pekovic against the Blazers, Love and Martin were late scratches. Love missed the game because of a quad injury and Martin has a broken thumb. The trio — who are the Timberwolves’ top three scorers — are averaging a combined 62.6 points, 25.7 rebounds and 7.0 assists.
Minnesota point guard Ricky Rubio did everything he could to keep the Timberwolves in the game. Making 8 of 19 shots from the field, Rubio reached a season scoring high before the end of the third quarter and finished with a career-best 25 points.
“He had a great game,” Adelman said. “He was on the attack, he was very aggressive. We had a lot of guys who stepped up tonight.”
Wing Corey Brewer scored 26, forward Chase Budinger added 19 and forward Dante Cunningham finished with 14 for the Timberwolves. Minnesota rookie forward Shabazz Muhammed scored 12 points, reaching double figures for the first time in his career.
Portland led 55-54 at halftime even though Lillard was limited to six minutes of action because of foul trouble. With Lillard sitting with three fouls, McCollum came off the bench to score 13 first-half points.
While the Blazers led by as many as 11 points early in the second quarter, the undermanned Timberwolves kept fighting. Minnesota scored 13 of the final 19 points of the half to get within one.
NOTES: Minnesota F Kevin Love suffered his quad injury when he was kneed by New Orleans PF Greg Stiemsma late in Friday night’s loss. Guard Kevin Martin broke a thumb in the game’s final minutes. It is unclear when Love will return, but he did play through pain at New Orleans. Martin, who is averaging 19 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists, is not expected to require surgery but is out indefinitely. … Minnesota coach Rick Adelman all but ruled out the return of C Nikola Pekovic before the All-Star break. Saturday’s game was the seventh in a row that Pekovic had missed because of bursitis his right ankle. “He has not done any strenuous activity on the court and he has to do that before he can play,” Adelman said. “I don’t see him playing before (the break).” … Portland played a second consecutive game without reserve G Mo Williams, who left the team to be with his ill sister. With Williams out, Earl Watson was the first guard off the bench for the Blazers.
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