MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — When the Minnesota Timberwolves jumped out to a 12-point lead over Portland at halftime, the struggling Trail Blazers looked to be on their way to yet another loss.
Turns out C.J. McCollum had the young Wolves right where he wanted them.
McCollum scored a career-high 43 points to carry the Trail Blazers to a 95-89 victory Sunday night.
Mason Plumlee had 18 points and eight rebounds, and Evan Turner added 11 points for the Blazers. They were without star point guard Damian Lillard for the fourth straight game.
McCollum made 16 of 25 shots, including a 30-foot 3-pointer with just over 2:30 to play to put the game out of reach.
“We were being soft as a team and I think it showed in our performance,” McCollum said. “We knew that we needed to come out and compete.”
Andrew Wiggins scored 24 points for the Timberwolves. But Karl-Anthony Towns had just 11 points on 3-for-15 shooting and missed all six of his 3-pointers. Zach LaVine also was quiet with 13 points on 5-for-12 shooting and the Wolves fell to 9-11 in games in which they lead by double digits.
“I shot good shots, put them up with the same form and they just weren’t going in,” Towns said. “I tried to do other things, try to make free throws when you got them, get rebounds, make assists. I don’t know. I shot good shots, they just didn’t fall.”
Portland had lost seven of its last eight and was floundering with its star on the bench with ankle problems.
Lillard was listed as doubtful for the game with that sprained left ankle. He worked out hard before the game and showed no noticeable limp, but the Blazers started McCollum at point guard again with two days off before their next scheduled game. McCollum, who was averaging 26 points per game with Lillard out, scored 13 points in a ragged first quarter and put up 16 in a 32-15 third quarter that helped the Blazers turn a 14-point deficit into a five-point lead going into the fourth.
“Without Damian, that’s 28 points and a lot of defensive attention,” McCollum said. “Seven assists, six rebounds, so a lot more energy has to be utilized on my end. I have to try to keep guys involved and take over as a decision maker.”
The Wolves came back to tie it with 7:23 to play, but Shabazz Napier hit a big 3, Turner hit a soft jumper and Allen Crabbe knocked down another 3 to put the Blazers in front for good.
Before the game, Portland coach Terry Stotts said it was important for his players not to try to do too much with Lillard out.
“I just said there might be a guy who scores 10 more than you expect,” Stotts said. “He scored 20 more than I expected.”
Trail Blazers: Crabbe had 10 points and a career-high eight rebounds. … McCollum topped 30 for the seventh time this season. His previous career high was 37. … Napier scored three points, the only bench player besides Turner to score.
Timberwolves: PG Ricky Rubio had a rough night, going 0 for 5 from the field and getting torched by McCollum on defense. He did not play in the fourth quarter. … Minnesota entered the game 10th in the NBA in free throw shooting, but missed six of them on Sunday night. … Towns did have 13 rebounds and six assists, all in the first quarter.
The Timberwolves had a workout scheduled with free agent forward Donatas Motiejunas as they considered adding him to help them bolster a bench that has struggled mightily this season. After working out with New Orleans, Motiejunas took a flight to Minneapolis on Sunday. But by the time he got off the plane, he had an offer from the Pelicans on the table and canceled his workout with the Timberwolves.
“We never got a chance to sit down with him,” coach Tom Thibodeau said.