PORTLAND — The Portland Trail Blazers key to success without LaMarcus Aldridge boils down to one thing: energy.
After trailing by as much as 18 points on Sunday, the Blazers received a major lift from Thomas Robinson and their bench to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 108-97.
Damian Lillard scored 32 points to lead the Blazers, as he and the rest of Portland’s supporting cast made a major second-half push to comeback for a big win.
Robinson finished with 14 points and career-high 18 rebounds off the bench in a major match-up against Minnesota’s Kevin Love at the Moda Center.
Robinson did start the second half and played more than in any game of his two-year career.
The energetic Will Barton got extended minutes for the second straight game and he, along with Robinson and Spanish forward Victor Claver, helped propel the Blazers to a dominating run.
The three combined for the play of the game at the 8:39 mark of the fourth quarter, moments after a dust-up between Minnesota’s Corey Brewer and Lillard, that led to Lillard’s fifth foul.
“I was going to let it slide, but then he kept going. I wasn’t going to let somebody play me like that. So, he had to get off me,” said Lillard who felt like Brewer fell on him and locked legs on purpose.
Robinson then violently blocked a dunk attempt by Brewer, sending him to the ground in the process. Claver grabbed the rebound, threw an outlet to Wesley Matthews who threw a lob to Barton for a slam dunk, sending the Moda Center into a frenzy.
“I don’t know, I was just in the moment,” said Nicolas Batum on the feeling when the play happened. “When that happened, it was like ‘OK, we are going to win the game.’ T-Rob made the best block I’ve ever seen since I was here. Then Will with the dunk after, it changed everything.”
Added Lillard: “That lit something up under us. There was a bit of tension, some attitudes, some frustration. (Brewer) tried to go and dunk on T-Rob and he sent it back the other way.”
“The truth is: that was fun,” said Claver who played in more minutes on Sunday than he had played all season. “Those moments when the crowd is crazy, you get the energy to keep making plays like that.”
“It’s almost playoff time,” Robinson said. “To know that 1-through-15 is out there with a physical mindset is a great thing especially when we’re missing our best player.”
Robinson and Barton both picked up technical fouls 16 seconds apart moments later, but nothing could swing momentum back Minnesota’s way.
Robinson also worked on the defensive end guarding Love, even if Love scored 30 for the fifth straight game.
Love scored only three points in the final period before being taken out of the game with 3:36 left in the game.
“You can’t say he shut Love down, but he made him work,” said Batum on Robinson’s defense.
Blazers coach Terry Stotts was drawing up a play on Friday for Batum–who was feeling ill–when he looked up and didn’t see Batum, who had retreated to the locker room.
“They were like squeezing the bags to get them in me. My blood pressure was low,” Batum said about having to get two bags of intravenous fluid into him on Friday.
Batum was present from the opening tip, feeling much better than he had since Wednesday.
“Nico, he started it all by being aggressive,” Robinson said.
“We work hard everyday,” said Claver about the guys like himself, Robinson and Barton who don’t play a lot of minutes throughout the season.
“We can enjoy a game like that.”