A Chief reason for Blazers' success
Allen Crabbe may have stolen the show on Thursday night, but Al-Farouq Aminu continued to be the steady presence the Trail Blazers need as they make a final push for the eighth and final NBA Western Conference playoff spot.
The "Chief" led the Blazers in minutes (40), scored 15 points on 3-for-7 shooting from behind the arc and showed his versatility in Portland's 105-98 victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Moda Center.
"Chief has been great," Blazers center Meyers Leonard said. "He's been shooting the ball with a lot of confidence. Particularly from 3 is where he is really letting it go.
"He's also been breaking guys down off the dribble when they are trying to chase him off the line."
Leonard noted that the 6-9 Aminu has been taking advantage of matchups against bigger foes such as Timberwolves big men Karl-Anthony Towns, a 7-footer, and 6-11 Gorgui Dieng.
"Both those guys are fairly athletic bigs, but Chief has the advantage when it comes to lateral movement," Leonard said.
Aminu never has been an explosive scorer, averaging 7.3 points per game over seven seasons. But he has made a big difference for the Blazers offensively in their last six games, with 14.5 points per game and 12-for-29 (41.4 percent) 3-point shooting.
For the first time in his career, Aminu has scored in double figures in six consecutive games, and the Blazers were 4-2 during that span.
"The team has just been clicking," Aminu said after Thursday's key win. "Everyone is playing well together, and I've been the beneficiary of some really good guard play. I feel like I have been able to capitalize off that."
With Jusuf Nurkic and Ed Davis out and Portland lacking a true center, Aminu's role on defense has become that much more important to Portland's success. While he often guards opponents on the perimeter, in the last four games he has defended more in the frontcourt.
"Chief is a hard worker. He's had a huge impact for us on the defensive end, and he's always there to step up and compete," Portland guard Evan Turner said. "He's been stepping up to hit big shots for us, even when our offense hasn't been going. He's steady and tough. You don't ever have to worry about him lagging."
Aminu's biggest challenge since Nurkic suffered a regular-season leg injury came Thursday against Towns, but the 220-pound Blazer banged inside and kept him iMinnesota's 245-pounder in check in the fourth quarter, when Towns managed only two of his 24 points — on a garbage-time layup with less than 30 seconds remaining.
Towns had a plus/minus of minus-8 in the fourth quarter, the second-lowest among Minnesota starters.
Aminu said the trick was "using my quickness. I'm given up a lot of weight to a guy like that, playing against a 5-man. I was just trying to limit him. Towns is so needed offensively for his team. I wanted to get to work on him early on and just fight."
Crabbe's 3-point barrage — the reserve guard made 8 of 10 from behind the line and scored a Portland-high 25 points in 31 minutes — will make the highlight reel.
But the Portland defense, led by Aminu, was the key to success in the fourth quarter, limiting the Timberwolves to 11 points.
"We were a little more aggressive," Stotts said of the final-frame defese. "We locked in our coverages a little better. We rebounded better. We did a lot of little things that made a difference."
Aminu's quiet impact of late is a huge reason why Portland (39-40 and 1 1/2 games ahead of ninth-place Denver) is in reach of a postseason berth.
"Chief can guard point guards, he is able to switch pick-and-rolls, he can guard guys bigger than him, and he is a very good rebounder," Stotts said. "Chief has been very good for us down the stretch."