Suns Strokes: Phoenix loses late lead again, falls to Love and Timberwolves
PHOENIX — Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
For the Phoenix Suns, the lesson from Sunday’s gut-wrenching 115-112 loss to the Houston Rockets must not have had enough time to sink. Losing an 11-point fourth-quarter lead was apparently not enough heartbreak for one home stand.
Despite holding a 91-83 advantage over the Minnesota Timberwolves with just under eight minutes to play Tuesday night, the Suns couldn’t close the door yet again.
The visiting Timberwolves reeled off a back-breaking 24-6 run, punctuated by a cold-blooded three from star forward Kevin Love with 30.7 seconds remaining.
By the time the jubilant, chest-pounding Love made his way back to the Minnesota bench, he and his teammates had a decisive 10-point advantage — one that held up for good as the Wolves came from behind for a 110-101 victory.
“When you’re playing against good teams, if you don’t buckle down in that fourth quarter and try to guard your own man without expecting help, that’s when you get in trouble,” Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek said. “Teams pick you apart and that’s what they did.”
Love and Co. certainly did.
Minnesota shot over 62 percent and scored 35 points over the final 12 minutes of play. In that same span, Phoenix scored just 20 points and committed eight costly turnovers.
For the Wolves, the win was the fourth in their last five contests, but just the third in their last nine at US Airways Center.
“It was a big win,” Timberwolves head coach Rick Adelman said. “Guys played really well and stayed with it. We had a big fourth quarter to win the game. With five minutes to go in the game, we called a timeout and said, ‘The team that makes the stops is going to win the game.’ We were physical. We rebounded the ball well and won the game.”
As it turns out, the Phoenix Suns have a dynamic backcourt that doesn’t feature Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic.
Playing without Leandro Barbosa (toe) for the third consecutive game, Phoenix relied on Archie Goodwin and Ish Smith early and often, and the duo didn’t disappoint.
Smith acted as chief facilitator, dishing out a team-high seven assists to go along with seven points, four steals and three rebounds.
Goodwin, who was on a D-League assignment just two weeks ago, reached double-figure scoring for the first time since November, finishing with 10 points in 5-of-9 from the field.
“I just am going out there and doing what I’ve been doing,” Smith said. “The minutes and the role increase a little bit, so hopefully I can fill that role and that void. I’m not going to put any added pressure on myself. Just to what it takes to win at my position and hope for the best.”
But, Goodwin and Smith weren’t alone off the bench.
Fellow bench mate Markieff Morris couldn’t be contained after halftime — not by Kevin Love, Daunte Cunningham, Robbie Hummel or any other defender Adelman called upon — scoring 16 of his team-high 24 points in the second half. The performance marked the third time in as many games that the former Kansas standout eclipsed the 20-point mark — a feat accomplished back in November when he took home the Western Conference Player of the Week honors.
Kevin Love might be the object of the Suns’ organization and its fans’ affection when it comes to his potential free agency after the 2014-15 season, but he certainly didn’t mind playing the role of the ungracious guest Tuesday night.
The 25-year-old finished with a game-high 33 points, including the dagger late, to go along with 13 rebounds, nine assists and two blocked shots.
“He makes plays,” Hornacek said of the three-time All-Star. “He can get the shot, but then he makes passes. He sets screens. He goes and gets a rebound. It’s not like he’s doing one thing. That’s what makes him a great player. When it comes down and things are on the line, the guy can make the plays.”
While Love made plenty of plays down the stretch, the Suns could not.
After guard Goran Dragic fouled out with three minutes and 46 seconds left in the contest, Phoenix’s offense came absolutely unglued. At the time of the whistle, the Suns only trailed 96-95. However, they finished the night with eight misses on their last attempts.
“I think the momentum had swung prior to him fouling out,” said Hornacek. “He twisted his ankle and wanted to come back in and give it a shot. In hindsight, maybe I should have just left him off of it, because that group that was going was doing pretty decent.
“It’s tough when he goes down. Ish does a good job of pushing the ball. I just didn’t think we were getting into our offense. We kept calling plays and telling them to get into the plays, but again maybe that’s them being tired. You can’t run your offense when there’s six seconds on the shot clock, and we’re finally getting to the option.”
Dragic injured his ankle during a run out and drive attempt late in the third quarter. Hornacek didn’t reveal his status for Wednesday night’s game.
STAT OF THE GAME:
Pac-12 territory must have a special effect on Minnesota Timberwolves forwards Daunte Cunningham (Oregon State) and Shabazz Muhammed (UCLA). Cunningham reached double figures (12 points) for the fourth consecutive game, three of which were played on the West Coast. As for Muhammed, the rookie scored a career-high 20 points and added six offensive rebounds. Thirty-two combined points from two oft-used offensive contributors and a heavy dose of Love were more than enough to get Minnesota over the hump late.
HE SAID IT:
“It kind of ended how it started. They were able to kind of get things going in the beginning, and they got things going at the end. They were able to make plays down the stretch, and we just weren’t.” – Suns guard Gerald Green
– P.J. Tucker had a rather odd stat line. Despite shooting just 2-of-11 from the floor, the third-year forward did manage to grab a career-high 16 rebounds.
– The win was especially sweet for Minnesota considering it was without two if its top three leading scorers in Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin, who both sat out do to injury.
– In their three consecutive wins after the All-Star break, the Suns allowed just 73 combined points in the fourth quarter. In their back-to-back losses to the Rockets and Timberwolves, Phoenix gave up a whopping 69 points.
– Kevin Love extended his streak of 30-point, 10-rebound performances to six games – the longest since Shaquille O’Neal pulled it off 11 straight times in 2001.
The Suns (33-23) quickly departed for the airport following the loss, because the suddenly-reeling eighth seed out west has a short turnaround Wednesday. Up next is a date with the Utah Jazz (20-35) at EnergySolutions Arena. Phoenix holds a 2-1 series lead this season, but Utah has won four of its last seven games. Tip-off is at 7 p.m. and can be heard on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.