PORTLAND — The Minnesota Timberwolves seemingly couldn’t miss in the first half of Thursday night’s game in Portland. In the second half, that honor belonged to Trail Blazers guard/forward Allen Crabbe.
The 6-6 wing in his fourth season out of Cal hit eight three-pointers, with five of those coming in the second half, to spark a rally that would ultimately lift the Trail Blazers to a 105-98 victory in front of a sold-out crowd of 19,393 at the Moda Center.
“I think we struggled most of the night but the fourth quarter was terrific,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “A lot of good defensive performances. Obviously (Crabbe’s) shooting was fantastic for us, got us back in the game.”
With the win, the Trail Blazers improve to 39-40 overall and 23-15 at the Moda Center this season. More importantly, the victory extends Portland’s lead over Denver for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference by 1.5 games with three games to play. Portland’s “magic number” (Portland wins plus Denver losses) is now two.
“Obviously we created more space with a win between us and Denver,” said Damian Lillard. “But like I said after last game, we’re in control. As long as we do what we need to do, come out here and win games, then it won’t really matter. We did what we needed to do tonight and now we move on to the next game.”
Despite clinging to a razor thin lead in the race for eighth, the Trail Blazers looked like the team with nothing to play for early, going down 12-2 before most fans had settled into their seats. The Timberwolves would lead by as many as 14 in the first half, though Portland would respond in the second quarter with a 11-4 run to cut the lead from 14 to seven. But Minnesota push the lead back up to 61-53 at the half.
Portland would show signs of fight in the third, going on a 17-2 run to tie the game at 72-72 midway through the quarter. But much like in the second quarter, the Timberwolves would push back in the later portion of the quarter, extending their lead to 87-80 going into the final 12 minutes of regulation.
Then Crabbe came to life. The 6-6 wing came out firing almost as soon as he entered the game in the fourth, scoring 10-straight before going on to drain four three-pointers in a span of a little over two minutes to give the Trail Blazers their first lead of the game at 92-89 with 8:25 to play.
“Hit the first couple (shots) and it just felt good tonight,” said Crabbe. “Teammates found me in transition, in the flow of the offense. It was a good one for me tonight.”
Portland extended their lead to as many as nine thanks to the combination of Crabbe’s shooting and the Trail Blazers’ defense holding the Timberwolves to 0-of-12 shooting to start the fourth. By time Andrew Wiggins made the Timberwolves’ first field goal of the fourth with 2:40 to play, Portland had control of the game at both ends, holding Minnesota to 11 points in the fourth, the fewest points Portland has given up in a quarter this season.
“I don’t think they had a field goal until the last two or three minutes,” said Lillard. “They got to the free throw line but we buckled down on the defensive end. We played physical, we communicated, we helped each other out and that led to us getting out and getting some transition threes and just getting the energy into the game. I give all the credit to what we did defensively.”
Crabbe finished with 25 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the field and 8-of-10 shooting from three, five rebounds, three assists and a steal in 31 minutes.
“Just one of them nights,” said Crabbe. “It was a good shooting night, teammates finding me and I was just delivering shots tonight.”
He also became just the second Trail Blazer in franchise history to make at least seven three-pointers off the bench. His eight threes Thursday night are tied for the most by a reserve this season.
“I mean I love seeing a shooter get on a roll like that,” said Stotts. “The shot he hit in transition, and the way we are in transition, I’d rather pull up for threes than go to the basket.”
Lillard went just 7-of-21 from the field but managed to finish within shouting distance of a triple-double, ending with 22 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in 36 minutes. CJ McCollum went 8-of-19 from the field for 18 points and five assists in 35 minutes.
Al-Farouq Aminu, who started at center for the second consecutive game, went 4-of-11 from the field and 4-of-7 from three for 15 points and seven rebounds in 39 minutes.
The Timberwolves were led by Wiggins, who went 14-of-27 from the field for 36 points and eight rebounds in 39 minutes. Karl-Anthony Towns finished with a double-double of 24 points and 16 rebounds.
Next up, the Trail Blazers continue their season-ending homestand by hosting the Utah Jazz Saturday at the Moda Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 pm.