Wednesday the Minnesota Timberwolves welcomed the Phoenix Suns to Target Center. The game was nationally televised, but I stuck with the usual WolvesRadio broadcast – per usual – due to work obligations and a general disliking for the ESPN game callers.
Phoenix entered the game on the second night of a back-to-back, having lost to the Bulls – on Tuesday – in Chicago. For the Wolves it was a chance to start the climb over the proverbial hump over .500. The Suns, if the season ended today, would qualify for the playoffs and are playing better than expected, the Wolves are underperforming. It’s a game I expected to win. Eric Bledsoe, the Suns star point guard, was inactive and Chase Budinger’s return to the Wolves lineup was announced just two hours prior to the game. Rested, with the forgiving portion of the schedule approaching, it’s time for the Timberwolves start playing as we expect them too — this was their chance to start.
A combination of inconsistent officiating and physical play kept the Wolves out of rhythm throughout the first two quarters. Jeff Hornacek, the Suns first year head coach, is an ‘all-business’ type of guy and the early front runner for Coach of the Year. Hornacek spent a number of seasons playing under Jerry Sloan with the Utah Jazz. He’s getting the most out of his players using the tenacious tendencies he learned under Sloan in Utah, and has his players believing they can make a difference in the far-superior Western Conference.
Kevin Martin was the only player to get anything going offensively in the opening half. Miles Plumlee and Channing Frye played well on both ends for Phoenix, but their efforts on defense stood out the most. Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Love were 3-17 as the second quarter came to a close, Frye and Plumlee on the other hand? — 21 points on 7 of 12 field goal shooting. Frye has a history of shooting well from long-distance against the Wolves and he was en route to having a career night, again, by halftime nailing home 4 of 6 from the 3pt-line. However it was Goran Dragic led the way with 16.
Love was 2 for 12 shooting, had 6 points, and 7 boards while also picking up a technical foul in what was a less-than-stellar half, to say the least. Rick Adelman, also displeased with the debatable officiating – in terms of consistency – was provided a technical foul of his own. The first half, yea, there’s just not a pretty picture I can paint.
Adelman, during an interview with an ESPN sideline reporter, informed the audience that his team needed to play through the contact and adjust to the officiating — he didn’t have any excuses for the way his team played. Corey Brewer starting leaking out in transition and Ricky Rubio found him early in the 3rd quarter for what was the first of Brewer’s three breakaway baskets within a span of just four or five minutes. Love added 7 points, doubling his first half total, after hitting one of two attempts from outside and from the free-throw line. Rubio was big on the boards, tallying eight rebounds by the end of quarter-three, and was draped over Dragic trying to stop the Sun’s only threat to score off-the-dribble. Dragic managed to score only two points in the third.
Pekovic helped settle my stomach, though, battling to score in the low-block even after missing a plethora of attempts around the rim. His contributions, though minimal on the box score sheet, were huge. Going into the fourth-quarter the Wolves led, 77-72, and butterflies fluttered around my stomach thinking about how this nationally televised debacle was going to come to an end.
With 2:49 remaining, the Wolves were up by five and had a chance to close out the game right away with a possession under their own basket — they executed. Adelman drew up a play, the inbound went to Love on the elbow and from there it went to the low block. There, Pekovic went to work on Plumlee – who then committed his sixth foul – forcing him to have a chair on the sideline and watch the game’s remaining minutes in shame. At this point Brewer was six for seven in the second half and his 12 points, mostly attained on the fast break, were the difference in the game.
With two minutes remaining Dragic drove to the basket, ran into a Pekovic, and reverse pivoted where Rubio was there to meet him. Rubio stole the ball, looked up the floor and Brewer caught it, got fouled, and headed to the line for two. He missed the first, made the second and the Wolves went up six. P.J. Tucker, the Suns workhorse, made two FT’s and the game narrowed tighter.
Rubio brought the ball up with 1:30 left, got it to Love on the left wing but he would miss a hook shot and Phoenix retained possession. Dragic euro-stepped through the lane, laid the ball off-glass and in, 103-101 Wolves. The Wolves got the ball back, turned it over, and before anyone could blink one of the Morris twins was at the line with a chance to tie the game. Markieff Morris missed the first, made the second and the game went to a timeout. Rubio used a staggered screen, going first around Love and then around Pekovic, before driving the lane — he left his feet, had nowhere to go, and the Suns called timeout with 16 seconds remaining and a chance to take the lead.
Dragic would drive, again, and pick-up his dribble near the elbow before the ball found Danny Green. Green fell toward the baseline from 18 feet, buried it, and the Wolves were down with time to run one more play, and a chance to win the game. The ball went to Martin, who got into the lane with ample space to make a floater within 10 feet of the rim — but he missed. The game was over and the Suns stole a game from the Wolves, on the road, and on a night Phoenix was on a second night of a back-to-back.
- Chase Budinger — He’s back, so he’s star number one. Was nice to see him out there looking like a threat, at times, he’s got a ways to go before the contributions we need from him are fulfilled.
- Kevin Martin — Was the wolves offense, missed a shot at the end that would have made the difference.
- Goran Dragic — This dude can play
Revert to any other recap in which the Wolves failed to win a game in the final minutes and those are my takeaways. It’s just a matter of time, they’ll get it, or they won’t.