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Suns Strokes: Phoenix falls to Minnesota in battle of young stars

PHOENIX — The future of the NBA was on full display at Talking Stick Resort Arena on Friday night.

Ten players in their first, second or third seasons appeared in the game, and it was last season’s Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns who stole the show. The big man out of Kentucky made his presence known early with 13 points and six rebounds in the first half, finishing with 22 and 10 as the Timberwolves picked up the 98-85 victory.

The game started to turn the Suns’ way in the second quarter when they surged with an 11-2 run thanks in part to aggressive play on offense from rookies Tyler Ulis and Dragan Bender. Towns being on the bench helped as well, but sloppy passing would slow the scoring pace and the teams finished the half with 14 points apiece and a 52-47 Suns lead.

After a much closer third quarter, the Timberwolves’ bench opened the fourth strong and helped to grab the lead back with under six minutes to play. Once they got on top, Towns kept them there, but the Suns didn’t do much to help themselves on offense, shooting poorly from the floor (2-for-16) in the final period and making their final field goal with 9:06 to play in the game. A 31-10 fourth quarter drubbing by Minnesota, thanks to seven points a piece from Towns and fellow young star Andrew Wiggins, buried the Suns for good.

“They searched and searched until they found something that worked,” Suns head coach Earl Watson said after the game, “And they stayed with it, Wiggins in pick and roll coverage.”

Both Towns and Wiggins (25 points) topped 20 points in the fourth, helping the Wolves cruise to victory.

“We made up for a lot of mistakes … with just our effort and attitude,” Towns said. “That’s the great thing about a young team like us that’s very athletic, you can make up a lot of mistakes by just playing hard.”

Wiggins was aggressive in the lane, drawing fouls and getting to the line to make 10 of 11 free throws while Towns was his usual do-everything self. Suns head coach Earl Watson complemented Towns before the game, saying he was a new trendsetter that counters the small-ball teams of this NBA era.

Towns wasn’t the only Minnesota player 6-foot-10 or taller hitting three-pointers either — Gorgui Dieng and Nemanja Bjelica each dropped a triple in the second half.

As for the Suns, Brandon Knight (15) and Devin Booker (11) finished in double-figure for points while Alex Len grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked four shots.

The Suns split their season series with the Wolves last season and will meet them two more times this year, the next showdown coming Monday Dec. 19 in Minneapolis.

THE GOOD

Tyson Chandler made his return to the Phoenix Suns after four games away and quickly slammed down an alley-oop for two of his six points. He would also pull down seven rebounds in 11:23 on the floor.

Eric Bledsoe was in a passing mood in the first half, dishing seven assists, his first on an alley-oop to Len in transition. Len would pick up a block on the other end and the ensuing possession resulted in a Knight layup to bring the Suns within one point early in the game. Bledsoe’s scoring would take off in the third quarter. He dropped nine of his 23 points and added three more of his 10 assists to rack up his second double-double of the season, the first with points and assists.

Marquese Chriss recorded his second straight game without a turnover.

THE BAD

The fourth quarter. All of it. Poor shooting (2-for-16 total, 0-for-5 from three-point land and 6-for-11 from the free throw line), poor offense (seven turnovers) and poor ball movement (zero assists).

Bledsoe’s fourth quarter may have been one of the worst in his career. It included three turnovers, just one field goal and was punctuated by a poor layup attempt over Andrew Wiggins on a fastbreak that even if it fell may have been too little, too late.

There was also a series about halfway through the first quarter where Len got embarrassed by perennial dunk contest contender Zach LaVine. He threw down a monster right-handed jam that’s sure to end up on Timberwolves highlight reels for years to come. To make matters worse, the T-Wolves stole the inbound pass (one of three such instances in this game) and drew a foul. Though they came away with an empty possession, the Suns couldn’t cash in, and Chriss badly missed an alley-oop opportunity, giving the ball back to Minnesota.

STAT OF THE GAME

7 – Both Eric Bledsoe and Alex Len committed seven turnovers each while the Wolves committed only 17 as a team. The Suns also had seven turnovers in the fourth quarter.

9:06 – The final Suns field goal of the night was made with 9:06 to play in the fourth quarter.

HE SAID IT

“If we’re going to win games it’s going to be defensively. We don’t have any superstars on this team,” said Devin Booker in regards to the team’s collapse in the fourth quarter. “Every game we win is going to have to be gritty. We have to be physical with teams, have to lock down defensively”

NOTED

-T.J. Warren missed his fourth straight game due to a minor head injury while Tyson Chandler returned to action after missing the last four due to the passing of his mother.

-Before the game, the Suns sent rookie forward Derrick Jones Jr. to the D-League.

-The Timberwolves continue to be without big man Nikola Pekovic, who remained sidelined with recurring ankle pain.

UP NEXT

On Sunday, the Suns take on the Denver Nuggets, a team they lost to 120-104 earlier this month in Denver. Tune into ESPN Phoenix 620 AM for the 1 p.m. pregame show and 1:30 p.m. tipoff.

 

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