MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — With Karl-Anthony Towns sidelined for nearly a month, the Minnesota Timberwolves have had to find ways to make up for his scoring. They’ve also tightened things up on the defensive end in their star big man’s absence.
That was certainly the case again Thursday night against Portland.
Andrew Wiggins scored 23 points, Gorgui Dieng had 12 points and 10 rebounds and Minnesota shut down the Trail Blazers 116-102.
Minnesota smothered the Trail Blazers all night. The Timberwolves held Portland to 13 points on 6-of-22 shooting in the second quarter, the fewest points the Blazers have scored in a quarter this year.
“We have discovered our identity that our defense is going to carry us,” said Timberwolves guard Josh Okogie, who had two steals and two blocks. “That’s just what we have to be every night.”
Damian Lillard led Portland with 20 points and eight of the team’s 14 assists. CJ McCollum and Hassan Whiteside each added 15 points.
Thursday was the last game of a five-game trip for Portland.
“Overall we were a little bit tired,” Lillard said. “It’s usually like that at the end of the trip, when you know you’re going home after the game, been on the road for a long time and we just didn’t have the kind of energy that we needed tonight.”
The Timberwolves took control with a big run to start the second quarter. Led by Keita Bates-Diop and Wiggins, Minnesota used a 20-4 run to turn an eight-point deficit into a 46-38 lead.
The Wolves’ lead grew to as much as 27 in the third, allowing coach Ryan Saunders to play his backups for the entire fourth quarter.
“They gained the momentum right at the start of the third quarter, and all of a sudden it’s a 20-point game,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “It is pretty deflating when that happens.”
Minnesota entered Thursday’s game with the best defensive rating in the league since Dec. 26 and was holding opponents to an average of 103.6 points. That defense was on display against Portland in the second quarter.
The Wolves had four steals — two by Robert Covington — and turned four Portland turnovers into eight points during the dominant second quarter. Minnesota outscored the Blazers 31-13 in the second to take a 59-47 lead.
“We’re a better offensive team when we defend,” Saunders said. “We had a number of guys step up. Holding a team like that to 13 points in a quarter, that’s a big credit to that locker room.”
Minnesota put up 41 points in the third quarter as the Timberwolves went on cruise control. Wiggins scored nine of his 23 points in the third.
Trail Blazers: Portland returns home after going 2-3 on a five-game trip. … Whiteside was listed as questionable prior to the game because of an upper respiratory illness but started for the Blazers. … Lillard has topped 20 points 30 times this season. … Anfernee Simons received four stitches on his cheek, head coach Terry Stotts said.
Timberwolves: Wiggins’ eight assists were a season high. … Minnesota had nine players score at least eight points. … The Timberwolves are 196-3 when leading by 15 points entering the fourth quarter.
Trail Blazers: Host Milwaukee on Saturday night.
Timberwolves: At Houston on Saturday night.