T-Rob to rescue for undersized Blazers
As they offered high-fives, back-slaps and butt-pops in the Trail Blazers' locker room Sunday night, Thomas Robinson's teammates had a nickname ready for him.
"We were joking around, calling him 'Thomas Aldridge,' " Damian Lillard said.
Robinson is not be confused with LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland's All-Star power forward, who was missing for the third straight game with a groin injury.
But Robinson was the man of the hour, contributing 14 points, a career-high 18 rebounds and some important defensive work on Kevin Love in the Blazers' come-from-behind 108-97 victory over Minnesota at the Moda Center.
The Blazers (38-18) are woefully shorthanded up front with the injuries to Aldridge and reserve centers Joel Freeland and Meyers Leonard. It leaves Aldridge and Robinson as the only true 4-5's on the roster.
The 6-10, 240-pound Robinson was up to the task Sunday night in a virtuoso 33-minute performance off the bench, one that left him deserving at least sharing the game ball with Lillard, who had another splendid outing with 32 points.
"He was huge for us," Lillard said. "He went out and got a lot of rebounds outside of his box. He had a lot of tough finishes, ran the floor, protected the paint. He made some big-time plays that came at the perfect time."
Robinson, the fifth pick in the 2012 draft, is on his third team in his second NBA season. The former Kansas great came into Sunday's game averaging 4.3 points and 3.8 rebounds, with flashes of brilliance surrounded by longer moments of mediocrity.
Coach Terry Stotts said Robinson -- who finished 6 for 13 from the field -- provided "a little bit of everything. His toughness with Kevin Love. his physicalness in the paint was important for us. He was getting rebounds in a crowd. The way we finished the first half set the table for the second half, and Thomas was a big part of that. That's how we need him to play, and he knows that."
Minnesota (27-29) got the drop on Portland, jumping to leads of 22-11 and 46-30 and 52-34 and finally 60-44 with 2 1/2 minutes left in the first half.
The Blazers closed the half with an 8-0 flurry though, to get within 60-52 at the break.
The second half was all Portland's, as the flustered Timberwolves -- playing the second of back-to-back games after a 121-104 win at Utah Friday night -- shot only .326 and scored 37 points after intermission.
"The second half was really exciting," Stotts said. "I loved the energy. It was a very good defensive half for us. Our attitude, our demeanor coming out at halftime was what made the difference."
Minnesota coach Rick Adelman saw it another way.
"We got tired in the third quarter," the former Blazers boss said. "Playing a back-to-back and an early game today, it's just one of those things you have to live with in this league."
Love -- who entered the game off the first triple-double of his career with 37 points, 12 rebounds and a career-high 10 assists at Salt Lake City -- was on fire early, sinking 5 of 5 shots and scoring 13 points in the first nine minutes. The Lake Oswego High grad cooled from there, but still finished with 31 points and 10 boards despite serving as the focus of Portland's defense during his 35 minutes on the court.
Robinson was one of four players who spent time guarding Love.
"You can't let up when you're guarding somebody like Kevin Love," Robinson said. "I just wanted to be in tune and ready for him at all times. Never know what he's got in the bag."
Robinson and Victor Claver teamed to hold Love to 14 points in the second half.
"I can't say (Robinson) shut down Kevin Love, but he made him work," Portland's Nicolas Batum said. "He showed who he is. He can be a good player in this league, for sure."
Robinson's career rebounding night was by design on a night when the Blazers had precious little otherwise inside.
"It was just me going after the boards, making the effort, attacking the glass," he said. "we're short a couple of bigs so I have to help out. That's all that was."
Robinson had the defensive play of the night, a sensational block of a Corey Brewer dunk attempt early in the fourth quarter that turned into a Will Barton dunk off a lob pass the other way, a 10-second sequence that brought the house down.
"That lifted something up under us," Lillard said. Brewer "tried to go dunk on T-Rob, and T-Rob sent it back the other way. And then it went straight into a lob. Another energy play, him hustling back and going back to get that block."
Said Robinson: "It was a timing thing. I wanted to go get it. When I did, it gave me a rush. Adrenaline shot through me. I was hyped. Probably said a bunch of stuff -- don't remember what I said. After Will scored on the dunk, it made the play even better."
Robinson's performance nearly overshadowed another spectacular showing by Lillard, who has filled the breech nobly in the three-game absence of Aldridge. The second-year point guard was 11 for 17 from the field, 5 for 8 from 3-point range and 5 for 5 from the foul line, with five assists and one turnover in 30 foul-plagued minutes.
"He scored 32 points on 17 shots," Stotts said. "I liked how efficient he was. He was in a good rhythm with his perimeter shot."
The Blazers showed plenty of emotion in the second half, inspired by the comeback from so many points down.
"It was a lot of fun," Lillard said. "There was a fire lit underneath us. There was a bit of a challenge, a bit of adversity to start the game. The guys off the bench brought the energy. They really changed the game."
Portland's next action is Tuesday night at Denver. The Blazers remained tied with Houston for third place in the Western Conference.
In the three games Aldridge has missed, Lillard has averaged 30.3 points.
Batum contributed 22 points on 9-for-15 shooting and had 10 rebounds and three blocked shots. It was the most points Batum -- slowed by an intestinal virus Friday night -- has scored since a 22-point showing against Dallas on Dec. 7.
"I feel much better," Batum said. "I rested the last couple of days, found the energy. I tried to come out and give what I could to win the game."
Claver contributed 5 points on 2-for-3 shooting with five rebounds in 24 minutes. The second-year pro from Spain had gone scoreless in 21 minutes this season. "I feel tired," he said with a smile afterward, "but it's good to feel tired."
Portland is the only NBA team with 10 victories in its division this season. The Blazers are 10-3 against Northwest Division opponents.
Minnesota was without starting center Nikola Pekovic (ankle), reserve center Ronny Turiaf (knee) and starting shooting guard Kevin Martin (thumb).
Love notched his league-high 47th double-double of the season. He has scored at least 30 points in five straight games and in nine of his last 11 contests.
Love, on the Blazers: "They're good even with LaMarcus out. They can put points up in a hurry, shoot the ball well, and they have one of the best -- if not the best -- crowds in the league."
It was the third double-double of the season for Batum.
When Minnesota last visited Portland on Jan. 25, Stotts remarked that the Blazers had the best power forward in the NBA in Aldridge, the Timberwolves the second-best in Love. He was asked pregame if he was sticking to his assertion. "Well, they have the best one tonight," Stotts quipped.
Stotts was asked how he felt putting on the '70s plaid leisure jacket he wore Friday night in a tribute to former Trail Blazer coach Jack Ramsay. "The problem wasn't putting it on; the problem was wearing it out there," Stotts said with a smile. Might he bring it out again? "The jacket was an honor and tribute to Jack Ramsay," Stotts said. "Unless we do a retro night in honor of Coach Ramsay, I don't know if you'll see it again."
Adelman, asked pregame if the Timberwolves are ready for a late playoff push: "We'll find out. We haven't been able to do it to this point. It's getting later in the season. You have to win games. It's a mentality we have to have. who knows what can happen? You have to win and hope that somebody stumbles. I told our players, 'You can't be satisfied with anything you've done. You haven't done anything yet. You have to go into each game with the discipline to play better than the last game.' "