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Suns Strokes: Bench production key in Suns win over Minnesota

Bench production had been key to the Phoenix Suns’ success this season; and it was once again in a 106-97 win over Minnesota in front of 17,367 at US Airways Center on Wednesday.

Rookie T.J Warren scored 17, Marcus Thornton had 14 and Brandon Wright had 11 to account for 42 of the Suns’ 43 reserve points, the club’s best bench showing in eight games.

Warren hit 8-of-10 shots to establish a new career-high scoring mark in only 19 minutes. Thornton, meanwhile, totaled more points in his 22 minutes than he had in his first six games combined—13 points in 40 minutes—since being acquired from Boston prior to the Feb. 19 trade deadline.

A six-point halftime lead rose to a 14-point advantage after Wright’s tip-in three minutes into the fourth quarter. The Timberwolves, led by Zach Martin’s 16 points, would pull to within six but no closer in the final period as they dropped their second straight and sixth in the last seven games.

The Suns (34-32) needed this win, which moved them to within 2.5 games of eighth-place New Orleans with 16 games to play.

Markieff Morris snapped his mini-slump with a game-high 24. Eric Bledsoe chipped in 18 and nine assists, helping the Suns win the season series with Minnesota (14-49) for the ninth time in the last 11 seasons.

THE GOOD

Marcus Morris had a hand in 13 of the Suns’ first 23 points. He scored eight—on an 11-foot pull-up jumper plus two 3s—and two assists, both to twin brother Markieff, one on a dunk and the other on a 3. Marcus also added five rebounds and a blocked shot for a stat-stuffing first quarter.

Though they went nearly the first three minutes before their first made field goal, the Suns recorded their best first quarter in seven games, scoring 25 points. They also put up 25 points against Oklahoma City on Feb. 26, but had averaged just 20.5 in the prior six opening periods.

First off the bench, Thornton scored the Suns first seven points to open the second quarter, hitting 3-of-5 shots in just four-and-a-half minutes. The output exceeded the combined production of his previous four games (six points on 3-of-11 shooting).

Warren closed the first half on a personal 8-0 run and scored 10 of the Suns last 12 points of the second quarter, putting him in double figures in back-to-back games for the first time in his career. He first hit a four-foot jumper and then added a putback layup, reverse lay-up, two-foot lay-up and fastbreak layup.

Markieff Morris scored six of his 10 third-quarter points during a 13-2 run that put the Suns up 11, 78-67, with 1:17 to play in the period. Morris recorded his 16th 20-point game of the season, leading the team in scoring for the 13th time, second-most behind Bledsoe (21).

THE BAD

Coming off a career-best 16-point performance against the Clippers, Adreian Payne lit up the Suns for eight first-quarter points. He made 3-of-6 shots and added three rebounds, one assist and one steal playing all 12 minutes of the opening period.

The Suns were held scoreless for a 4:15 stretch of the second quarter in which they watched their 10-point lead trimmed to two, 36-34 at the 4:43 mark. The drought began with back-to-back-to-back turnovers and continued with four straight misses before a PJ Tucker 17-foot jump shot.

The Suns opened the second half with five turnovers in their first eight possessions. They would cough the ball up twice more for a total of seven third-quarter turnovers with Bledsoe responsible for three. He finished with five and is averaging 5.6 over his last five games.

The Timberwolves scored five straight points—all free throws—to grab a 57-56 lead at 7:51 of the third quarter, their first advantage since it was 4-2 early in the first. Kevin Martin hit three free throws, the first coming after Tucker picked up a techical foul, and Gorgui Dieng made two.

Add Justin Hamilton’s name to the ever-growing list of players who have career nights against the Suns. He scored six straight points during one stretch of the third quarter, in which he had eight points and finished with a career-best 15, more than five times his season average (2.8).

STAT OF THE GAME

43: The number of Suns’ bench points, their highest total since scoring 50 in a 110-96 win at Denver on Feb. 25

HE SAID IT

“TJ gave us a big lift off the bench,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said. “It was a little bit of a struggle in the beginning defensively, but then he kind of fell intot he groove. He makes some great plays for us, that cutting is huge and I think guys really look for him on those cuts.”

NOTED

Tucker (third quarter) and Thornton (fourth quarter) each earned technical fouls; for Tucker it was his seventh and Thornton’s first with the Suns, who now have 46 player techicals this season

Seth Curry, who had signed a 10-day contract earlier, made his Suns debut, checking in with 1:14 to play; less than a minute later he attempted and missed his first shot, a 24-foot 3-pointer

Brandon Knight did not play and the Timberwolves were minus Kevin Garnett (rest); Knight missed his first Suns game because of a left ankle sprain, and he is considered doubtful for Friday against Atlanta

Warren is the only rookie in the NBA this season to score at least 17 points while playing 20 minutes or fewer in a game, and is the first Suns rookie to do so since Paul McPherson scored 20 points on 9-of-10 shooting in 17 minutes against Toronto on Dec. 30, 2000

The Suns scored 25 or more points in all four quarters, something they had not done in the previous 21 games; it was their most consistent scoring effort since a 118-113 win against Portland on Jan. 21 when they had scoring quarters of 40, 26, 25 and 27

The Suns will put all five of their different uniforms on display in each of their upcoming five games: usual home white vs. Timberwolves, orange alternates vs. Hawks, purple “Los Suns” vs. Knicks, gray alternates vs. Pelicans, usual road purple at Rockets

UP NEXT

Though the season is nearing its final month, the Suns only now finally get a look at the Eastern Conference’s number-one team, the Atlanta Hawks. They’re in for a visit on Friday, March 13. Tip is scheduled for 7 p.m. with pregame coverage beginning 30 minutes earlier on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.

The Suns won both meetings last season and have won seven of nine against the Hawks.

In their last matchup, the Suns got a game-high 20 points from Bledsoe plus 17 off the bench from Markieff Morris in a 102-95 victory at Philips Arena on March 24, completing the season sweep of the Hawks for the third time in five years.

Atlanta is the only team the Suns have yet to play this season.