Portland Trail Blazers Outrun Minnesota Timberwolves in Astonishing Win (2023)

The Portland Trail Blazers could be accused of tanking, fielding a fragile lineup, or not knowing how to play basketball very well as they faced the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday afternoon. They could not be accused of lacking heart, however. Hopelessly out-sized, overmatched, and with nothing to play for, the Blazers still put up one heck of an effort. They ran in transition, rebounded hard, passed freely, and squeezed every drop of production out of their impoverished rotation. The result was a 107-105 victory for the Blazers.

You read that right...victory. A win. A real, live win.

Shaedon Sharpe led the Blazers with 27 on 9-19 shooting, captaining the team on offense down the stretch. He had plenty of help from Kevin Knox II, who scored 19 off the bench. Only Anthony Edwards exceeded them, with 37. No other Timberwolves player scored more than 13.

The victory gives Portland a 33-45 record. Both the Indiana Pacers and Orlando Magic have 44 losses. Indiana plays at Cleveland today, while the Magic host the Detroit Pistons. A loss for either team would tie them with Portland for the 5th-worst record in the league and corresponding odds in the upcoming 2023 NBA Draft Lottery drawing. That’s the hidden cost of this victory. But the players on the court earned, and deserved, it nonetheless.

Here’s how the action went down.

First Quarter

The Timberwolves knew what was coming from the moment the game tipped off. They expected Portland to play a zone and adjusted accordingly. They put a big man in the middle of the floor and kept wings exactly at the diagonal positions from the basket, precisely where a 2-3 zone can’t cover. From there, they had a buffet of choices about how to get the ball to the hoop. They drove, passed to the middle, or simply threw it around the perimeter for easy shots.

A funny thing happened on the way to the demolishing, though. The ‘Wolves had trouble hitting their open looks. Trendon Watford and the Blazers did not. Watford scored 6 points in the first 3 minutes as Portland opened up a 10-5 lead. Minnesota was playing shaky, the Blazers with abandon.

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Play remained scattered and ugly through the remainder of the starter’s shift. That absolutely played into Portland’s hands. Watford and company continued to convert quick., short pull-ups in the lane that Minnesota seemed completely disinterested in stopping. The ‘Wolves converted layups and put-backs, but couldn’t score beyond three feet to save their lives.

Rudy Gobert started asserting himself inside as the ‘Wolves figured out that they had an unbeatable size advantage, but Drew Eubanks somewhat comically countered with a three-pointer and active defensive hands. Portland continued playing fast throughout. They never gave up on those lane shots either. If anything—and I can’t believe I’m typing this—the Blazers’ interior defense was better, certainly more active, than Minnesota’s.

But the ‘Wolves did develop an edge with shots directly at the rim, a place the Blazers were not equipped to go on offense or defend on defense. Minnesota hit only three attempts outside the lane during the first nine minutes, but they hit a whole truck full from zero feet.

As soon as it was time for Portland’s bench to check in, the tenor changed. With the number of Trail Blazers not playing, their second unit is more like their fifth. Meanwhile, the ‘Wolves still had guys like Karl-Anthony Towns on the floor, who has played more combined NBA minutes than Portland’s entire active roster at this point.

The Blazers had one more card to play, though. Their active youngsters nabbed a half-dozen offensive rebounds in the period, generating extra opportunities and some of the close shots they lacked otherwise. As a result, Portland held onto a 5-7 point lead through most of the period, finishing with a 31-28 lead.

Second Quarter

Portland’s bench players could only hold it together so long, though. Once the Timberwolves had a chance to sit down and really think about things during the break between quarters, they realized that the Blazers were out-efforting them and just about nothing else. The ‘Wolves came out running harder, rebounding better, and getting the ball around the court faster at the start of the second. At that point, the tide started to turn.

Most particularly, Minnesota picked up their lane defense. The easy shots in the paint from the first quarter disappeared. The Blazers found themselves relying on three-pointers instead. Fortunately, the ‘Wolves weren’t all the way ramped up. They didn’t get out to the arc. Shaedon Sharpe made them pay with a pair of triples that kept his team afloat.

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The life ring was a little floppy, though. The ‘Wolves started hitting threes of their own, plus they converted some of that newly-accelerated defense into transition buckets...the exact advantage the Blazers had ridden through their successful first period. Eubanks, Watford, and Sharpe continued to stand in as best they could, but one Anthony Edwards was enough to spur the Timberwolves to a 14-2 run against Portland’s newly-minted Big 3.

That run put the game in more familiar territory for Portland, as they went down by 10 with a couple minutes left. Minnesota got sloppy with the ball late, allowing the Blazers a couple of easy buckets. That allowed Portland to creep within six, 62-56, at the half.

Third Quarter

Portland kept it respectable as the third period started by playing the same way they did in the first: running whenever possible, taking it inside when they couldn’t, using the three-pointer as a back-up option. The big difference was, instead of pulling up in the paint, they took it right at the rim. That allowed the bigger Timberwolves defenders to set up, leaving the shots hotly contested. Portland hit only 3 of their first 8 attempts at the rim in the first 9:00 of the third.

On top of that, Portland committed twin sins of turning over the ball and not getting out to defend the three-point arc. Minnesota’s attempts either came from 6 inches or 23 feet, no in between. As a consequence, they built up a 14-point lead as the third period started winding down.

The only hiccup for Minnesota early was Towns picking up his fourth foul at the 8:43 mark, leaving him on the bench for the remainder of the period. It didn’t hurt at first, but it was about to catch up to them.


Just when it looked like the game was getting away, the Blazers reeled it back in. The ‘Wolves started stumbling and fumbling again. Portland got out on the run as a consequence. Meanwhile, Minnesota’s inability to hold onto the ball kept them to far fewer shot attempts than the Blazers got. Quantity trumped quallity. Within two minutes, that 14-point lead got down to 2 again. Portland was burying the Timberwolves under an onslaught of quick, transition buckets. As the third quarter ended, the Blazers trailed only 86-82.

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Fourth Quarter

The start of the fourth got gummy and ugly for both teams. They struggled to score, or even create a reasonable possession. On the one hand, that favored the Blazers, who definitely would have lost a normal game, let alone a pretty one. On the other, Portland needed to catch up, and scoring two points apiece in three minutes won’t allow you to do that.

Portland got another break at the 9:19 mark when the hard-driving Kevin Knox II—a definite bright spot for the Blazers today—drew the fifth foul on Towns. Towns’ absence left the ‘Wolves absent a mid-range scorer. That allowed Portland to play an in-out defense, forcing misses at the arc and denying Gobert the ball. Bricks and turnovers allowed the run-out buckets the Blazers thrived on.

When newcomer Jeenathan Williams hit a three and a transition layup in succession, Portland found themselves up 91-88 with 7:56 remaining. You read that right. A lead. In the fourth.

Minnesota came out of that timeout renewed on defense, determined to get the ball to Gobert, their 7’1 insurance policy. The active Blazers saw it coming, denying and swarming. That left secondary scorers trying to convert. They got layups and short shots, but they couldn’t convert.

Portland didn’t have much success at the rim either, as Gobert stopped them singlehandedly. They needed to drive quickly or pull up from ten feet. It remained to be seen whether they could win that way, but they were going to try.

Portland tried a few two-man plays in the halfcourt, starting with the ball in the hands of their scoring threats—Sharpe or Knox—then dishing to diving cutters when the T-Wolves closed. Keeping Minnesota in motion helped nullify the Gobert advantage. At the 4:00 mark, Portland still led by 4, 98-94.

Unable to capitalize on their huge centers, the ‘Wolves instead went to another potential matchup nightmare, letting Mike Conley pick apart Portland’s brand new roster of point guards. Here, they finally found success. Conley converted free throws on a perimeter foul, then broke down the defense to set up a Gobert-to-Anthony-Edwards three. Minnesota tool the lead again. But Sharpe would convert a layup with 2:02 remaining to tie the score at 100.

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Skylar Mays got another layup on the following possession, then Conley’s luck ran out as he missed a three. Sharpe drove hard again and drew a foul, converting the free throws to put Portland up 104-100 with a minute remaining.

Portland’s defense remained stout against Conley for the first 12 seconds of the next possession, but the ‘Wolves hit pay dirt when Conley bailed out to Anthony Edwards. Minnesota’s star guard shook his head, asked, “What are we doing here???” and then drove hard for an obvious and-one layup. The ‘Wolves were back within 1, 104-103, with the game coming down to nail biting time.

Shaedon Sharpe seemingly never rattles, though. With his team needing a bucket, he drove it right through the teeth of the Timberwolves defense, stared Gobert in the face, and converted a layup right around him. Portland led 106-103 with 25 seconds remaining.

The Timberwolves wanted a three in the next possession, but Portland covered the arc assiduously. Edwards ended up driving again, this time getting an unopposed dunk against the spread defense. Portland called timeout up 106-105, 17 seconds remaining.

Minnesota was able to knock the ball out of bounds on a wild inbounds attempt to Sharpe in the backcourt. It was ruled Portland’s ball, but the fingertip touches on it were close. It was the kind of play where the pursuing defender pushed the ball away, but the offensive player’s fingers may have technically been on the ball last in the nearly-simultaneous moment...a ruling that traditionally goes for the offense, as the defense caused the momentum of the infraction. That’s how it held up in this case as well. Portland got to inbound again, 15.6 seconds remaining,

This time, the pass was safer. That was the good news. The ball went to Eubanks, who to that point had been free-throw-free. That was the bad news. Eubanks hit 1 of 2. Portland led 107-105 Minnesota had one more shot with 14.4 remaining, no timeouts.

Once again the ‘Wolves tried for a three. Portland defended well. Kyle Anderson ended up with a four-foot scoop shot for the tie, but threw it over the backboard. Against all odds, the Blazers held on for the two-point win.

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Up Next

Stay tuned for extended analysis of the game, coming soon!


Portland’s road trip continues on Tuesday as they face the Memphis Grizzlies with a 5:00 PM, Pacific start.


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