Spoiler alert: it happened again.
In a game that was picked up by ESPN to feature the surprising Phoenix Suns and your Minnesota Timberwolves, the game probably wasn’t quite what anyone expected. In a tilt that was billed as a fast-paced, up-and-down game (the Wolves and Suns play at the two quickest paces in the league), there was…some of that. But a lot of big bodies hammering each other in the paint, and with little consequence. So you’d think the Wolves would win that battle, and easily. No so fast, unfortunately.
The Wolves got out to a quick 9-0 lead (7 of the points coming via Kevin Martin), prompting Phoenix Suns’ coach Jeff Hornacek to call a quick timeout. From there until the end of the frame, the Suns dominated. After hitting their first four shots of the game, the Wolves only converted on 4 of their next final 23 shot attempts of the quarter. They were getting decent looks, but the officials allowed some rugged play on the inside and neither Kevin Love or Nikola Pekovic were able to get to the free throw line in the opening quarter.
After starting the second quarter trailing by a 27-23 score, the Wolves’ bench actually gave the Wolves a 39-36 lead. Chase Budinger played his first minutes of the season, hitting a three-pointer and putting the ball on the deck and getting to the basket for a layup. As a unit, the bench played very well.
The starters began returning to the floor with about five minutes remaining in the first half, and the Suns went on a 17-8 run to end the frame. The Wolves got caught up complaining about the officiating, and despite the Suns being called for 15 fouls to the Wolves 8. That said, Pekovic and Love combined for just 3 of 20 shooting in the first half, and while there were a number of bunnies missed at the rim, there was a lot of contact as well. Love shot two free throws; Pekovic shot zero.
Rick Adelman was was charged with a technical in the first quarter (I believe his first of the season?), and Love was whistled for one late in the second quarter for giving the official a dismissive wave after a non-call. While the officiating was somewhere between questionable and miserable, the Wolves allowed their concerns about the calls/non-calls affect their play, and had to be thankful that they only trailed by a 53-47 score at halftime. It felt a lot worse than that.
But of course, this game didn’t cease to confuse. A relatively lackadaisical and distracted (by officiating) Wolves team kept at it in the third quarter, and slowly fell forward and into a lead by the time the frame was complete. The Wolves largely ceased their complaining, and even though the shots didn’t necessarily fall at a much higher rate in the half court offense, the running game finally was a factor.
Brewer leaked out for four buckets in the primary or secondary fast break, and Pekovic was finally a factor in the paint and on the glass on the offensive end. The defense and rebounding picked up significantly, and the Wolves found themselves outscoring the Suns by a 30-19 margin in the third quarter and lead by a 77-72 score heading to the final frame.
It should be noted that the starters played the entire stanza, save for Ronny Turiaf replacing Pekovic for the closing minutes. Heading to the fourth quarter, the fatigue of the starters was certainly a chief concern for Adelman and the Wolves.
And sure enough, Adelman chose to go with an all-bench lineup shortly after the fourth quarter started. Strangely enough, the bench held serve, and as the starters began to return past the midway point in the frame, the Wolves were able to maintain a two-possession lead from that point until the every-other-game final two minute collapse.
The Wolves turned the ball over an unfortunate amount of times down the stretch, and Goran Dragic made the Wolves pay. Until the Suns drew up a play with just over 10 seconds remaining that certainly didn’t go as planned. The end result, however, was Gerald Green hitting an off-balance, ridiculous baseline fadeaway to give the the Suns a one-point lead with 3.9 seconds left on the clock.
And the Wolves were toast. We knew it at that point. Rubio passed late to Martin on his cut, and despite Martin getting a decent look in the paint with minimal contact, he left the floater short. Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: Wolves blow two-possession lead in final minute, lose by one. Final score: Phoenix Suns 104, Minnesota Timberwolves 103.
- Kevin Love struggled tonight. Even though he only(?) pulled down 12 rebounds, he was active on the glass and was forced to deal with a very high amount of contact in the pain that the officials let both teams get away with. He shot just 4 of 20 (!!!) from the floor and finished with 15 points and 1 assists (zero turnovers).
After allowing the poor (and loose) officiating to affect his game throughout the first half, Love settled down a bit after receiving a technical foul. Understanding he couldn’t complain a whole lot from that point forward, Love buckled down and powered through one of his down nights from the floor.
- Ricky Rubio did his thing, again just missing a triple-double with 7 points, 8 assists, and 8 rebounds, although his play in the final minute was again troubling. His defense on Dragic could have been better overall, and for whatever reason, the Wolves’ scouting report apparently told Rubio to go under screens.
Dragic often made him pay, and generally gave Rubio more trouble than most point guards in the league tend to do. He’s probably the third best point guard in the Western Conference, after Stephen Curry and the injured Chris Paul. You can have Damian Lillard; I’ll take Dragic. But it’s close.
- Kevin Martin kept the Wolves in the game early, and Pekovic and Brewer did it late. Rubio was solid all game long, and the bench played one of it’s better games of the season. This was a very strange game. It felt like the Wolves were being blown out for more than half of the tilt, and save for a stretch in the third quarter, the Wolves never really felt like they were in control, or even really playing well. Until the middle portion of the fourth quarter. And then it all fell apart.
- Minnesota will host the Charlotte Bobcats at 7:00 p.m. on Friday night.