Minnesota Timberwolves: Takeaways from Wolves’ win over Suns

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JANUARY 20: Derrick Rose #25 of the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JANUARY 20: Derrick Rose #25 of the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images) /

The Minnesota Timberwolves stemmed the tide by hanging on to a 116-114 win over the 11-win Phoenix Suns on Sunday night at Target Center.

The Minnesota Timberwolves came into Sunday’s matchup with the Phoenix Suns on a two-game losing streak that dropped them to 11th in the Western Conference.

The Suns, who are now only 11-37 on the season, had defeated the Wolves in Phoenix in mid-December but played without Deandre Ayton and Richaun Holmes. Minnesota was short-handed, too, with Tyus Jones out and Robert Covington missing his ninth consecutive game.

It was a sloppy affair, with the Suns using a run late in the first quarter to take a two-point lead into the second frame. The visitors built a lead that reached 11 points midway through the second quarter before a late flurry from Minnesota brought the halftime deficit to just three points.

The story of the first half was Karl-Anthony Towns‘ dominance, scoring 15 points in the first quarter and 13 in the second, giving him 28 points and six rebounds in the first half alone.

And with the way that the first two quarter of the game went, if you had known that Towns only scored two points in the entire second half there is no chance that you’d think the Wolves would pull out a win. But Towns and Derrick Rose performed an almost exact swap in terms of their production.

In a strange twist, Towns followed a 28-point half with a two-point half while Rose scored just two points in the first half and 29 in the second half.

As the Wolves struggled to hang in during the third quarter and needed a late run to get back within four points at the start of the final frame, Rose took over down the stretch. Minnesota kept trying to go to Towns, but he couldn’t get a bucket to fall.

Ultimately, interim head coach Ryan Saunders chose to rely on Rose initiating the pick-and-roll, either with Towns or Dario Saric. It worked, for the most part, although the rest of the Wolves were forced into standing around and watching.

But after Taj Gibson stripped the ball from Devin Booker and came up with a steal on defense, the Wolves had a chance at the final shot. And it wasn’t exactly a complicated play call: an isolation with Rose and Mikal Bridges at the top of the key, with the Wolves other four players flattened along the baseline.

No help came from the Suns, as they undoubtedly expected Rose to try and get into the paint. Instead, he executed a beautiful crossover and step-back, hitting a fallaway jumper with 0.6 seconds left on the clock as it splashed through the net.

After a timeout, the Suns failed to get a shot off at the buzzer and that was it.

Video of the Night

Player of the Game

Derrick Rose: 31 points (12-24 FG, 0-4 3P, 7-9 FT), 4 rebounds, 3 assists

Rose, who Saunders had agreed to only play for around 30 minutes per game, has been forced to play some backup point guard minutes with Tyus Jones out with a sprained ankle. Jeff Teague was questionable to play on Sunday with an illness, and it’s possible that whatever his illness was cropped again during the game as Teague played just 24 minutes and saw the floor sparingly in the second half.

Rose played alongside Jerryd Bayless for a long time in the fourth quarter but still functioned as the primary ball-handler, keeping the Wolves in the game with a bevy of mid-range jumpers and dives to the rim. Also impressive: Rose had just one turnover in 38 minutes despite launching 24 shots and dishing out three assists.

The biggest shot, of course, was the above game-winner. The Wolves could not have won this game without Rose.

Notable Timberwolves Box Score Lines

  • Karl-Anthony Towns: 30 points (8-22 FG, 1-5 3P, 13-13 FT), 12 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals, one block
  • Taj Gibson: 17 points (7-8 FG, 3-3 FT), 5 rebounds, one steal, one block
  • Andrew Wiggins: 10 points (3-14 FG, 1-3 3P, 3-7 FT), 6 rebounds
  • Dario Saric: 9 points (3-5 FG, 1-2 3P, 2-3 FT), 5 rebounds, 2 assists, one steal

Towns was awesome in the first half, and if it wasn’t for a handful of easy missed shot attempts in the lane could have had 40 while hardly breaking a sweat. Nothing dropped for him in the second half, however, inside or out. But give him credit for playing hard throughout and having an impact on the game regardless.

Gibson was awesome, coming up with the key steal at the end of the game to give the Wolves a chance at the final possession. He also played some minutes at center to spell Towns after Gorgui Dieng played four dubious minutes in the first half and didn’t see the floor after halftime.

Wiggins had another awfully poor game, scoring 10 points on 14 shots while playing a team-high 40 minutes. Saric was solid and was a big key to the Wolves’ run in the second half.

Not mentioned was Anthony Tolliver, who only had four points and four rebounds in 15 minutes, making just one of four shot attempts from beyond the arc. But he played heavy minutes late in the second half and was key in moving the ball on offense and playing solid team defense on the other end of the floor.

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What’s Next?

The Wolves head to the desert for the second half of a home-and-home. Tip-off is at 8 p.m. CT on Tuesday.