Takeaways from Timberwolves’ poor defensive performance in Phoenix

Anthony Edwards of the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
Anthony Edwards of the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images) /

The Timberwolves lost 134-124 on the road against the NBA’s best team in the Phoenix Suns on Friday after trailing for most of the night.

Takeaways from Timberwolves poor defensive performance in Phoenix

Minnesota’s record fell to 24-25 with the loss and they are tied for the No. 7 seed with the Los Angeles Clippers. After battling back from a double-digit deficit, the Wolves couldn’t quite pull off the upset.

Chris Finch’s team played very well for stretches against the Suns but failed to execute and struggled to get stops in the final minutes. After getting within four points midway through the fourth quarter, the Timberwolves allowed Phoenix to knock down four consecutive 3-pointers and essentially put the game out of reach.

No. 1: Perimeter defense has to be better in closing time

Anthony Edwards connected on a mid-range leaner to bring the Timberwolves within four points with 6:48 left in the fourth quarter … and then the defense immediately gave up a quick 6-0 run.

Cam Johnson knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers to push the Suns’ lead to 118-108 and then Landry Shamet tacked on a triple of his own to force Finch to call timeout. Minnesota never got the deficit that low again.

Phoenix improved to 30-0 when leading going into the fourth quarter this season so it’s not a surprise the Timberwolves weren’t able to come back but the perimeter defense has to continue to be a concern going forward. Five players made multiple threes for the Suns including 17 combined 3-pointers from Devin Booker, Chris Paul, Johnson, and Shamet. Phoenix made 51.3 percent from beyond the arc as a team. That’s simply not a winning formula for the Timberwolves.

No. 2: Towns can’t get off to slow starts against superior opponents

Karl-Anthony Towns ended up having a solid night in the loss, compiling 23 points, nine rebounds and five assists, but he struggled mightily in the first half.

The 6-foot-11 center was called for a personal foul and technical foul in the final seconds of the half after committing a turnover on a double team. It was a frustrating start for Towns as he had just eight points and four rebounds at halftime.

The Suns led 74-66 at the break after ending the second quarter on an 8-0 run including a pair of free throws following the last-second foul. Towns was 3-for-10 from the field and 0-for-3 from deep in the first half and was clearly bothered by multiple calls (and non-calls) from the referees. He picked it up in the second half, scoring 13 points in the third quarter, but it wasn’t enough after Phoenix built a comfortable lead.

Towns has to be at his best from the tip against the NBA’s elite teams.

No. 3: Overall playmaking and creating for others must improve

Since D’Angelo Russell is day to day with a left shin contusion, the Timberwolves were without a true point guard on Friday. Jaylen Nowell made his first career start in the backcourt alongside Edwards. The Suns share the ball arguably better than any team in the league and there’s a glaring difference between their offense and the Timberwolves, especially with Russell sidelined.

Phoenix is looking to find the best shot every time down the floor and that’s one of the biggest reasons why they rank near the top of the NBA in assists, offensive efficiency, and points per game. The Suns had an impressive 21 assists in the first half and finished with 36 against Minnesota. Edwards racked up a career-high 10 assists in the loss but the Timberwolves only had 20 as a team and couldn’t create quality shots on a consistent basis.

Minnesota will try to bounce back against the Jazz at home on Sunday night.