EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Mikal Bridges responds, steps up for Suns in win vs. Timberwolves

Nov 9, 2022, 8:37 PM
Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges (25) moves past Minnesota Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert to sco...

Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges (25) moves past Minnesota Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert to score during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

(AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

Phoenix Suns wing Mikal Bridges on Wednesday night in Minnesota played against the Timberwolves like he heard the noise. Better yet, he played like the biggest criticism he took in was from himself.

With Cam Johnson (knee) and Chris Paul (heel) both out, the Suns desperately need a secondary source of offense to help out Devin Booker. And even when Paul was healthy, his passive start to the season proved this need doesn’t change with a clean bill of health for Paul until he starts to look like the Point God.

It was evident after the Suns managed only 88 points in Monday’s loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, the squad’s lowest point total in 18 months.

That fueled the discourse on how both Bridges and center Deandre Ayton have to take on that role more consistently. In the first game of the season without two starters, it was Bridges doing so in a 129-117 Suns win.

Bridges ended the first half with 18 of his 31 points, seven of his nine rebounds, all five of his assists, three of his four steals and his one block. Recording at least that final line of 31-9-5-4-1 has only been done five other times in franchise history, as Bridges joins Amar’e Stoudemire, Shawn Marion, Walter Davis, Charles Barkley and Alvan Adams, per Stathead.

Even better, Bridges attempted a career-high 20 shots.

It was obvious watching Bridges that he understood the assignment. On looks where Bridges as a ball-handler could go at a more rhythmic tempo, he was aggressive all night with attacking the defense.

This is a dribble handoff play where the Suns will often want to pass the ball to the big man after getting a switch. But Bridges didn’t even hesitate to launch an off-the-dribble 3.

Bridges’ onslaught on both ends in the last 4:58 of the first quarter spearheaded a 24-7 run. While Phoenix stagnated a bit in the second quarter after leading by 14 through 12 minutes, it closed the first half on a 16-7 spurt in the remaining 4:23 to have an 18-point advantage at the break.

The Timberwolves looked like the most unorganized team the Suns have faced this year. They spent far too many possessions in a zone defense that yielded wide-open shots because of how disconnected the players were, and at one point, Minnesota had only four players on the court defending before D’Angelo Russell at the scorer’s table realized he was supposed to have checked in already.

Landry Shamet, who shared Bridges’ mindset and was awesome too, closed the half out with a transition layup to give him 13 first-half points. That triggered Minnesota’s fans to boo its team off the floor in NOVEMBER. Yikes.

The Suns had 19 assists in the first half after reaching that amount for the entire game on Monday. Booker had seven of them, taking turns with Cam Payne when it came to running the offense.

Phoenix beat the Timberwolves earlier this season, so this wasn’t a revenge game necessarily, but it won that game because of the way Bridges and Johnson played. Booker struggled a whole lot, shooting 6-of-18 from the field while Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards did a terrific job defending him.

Booker remembered that!

He was a man on a mission in the third quarter. The face of the franchise attacked the Timberwolves like he had sensed the blood in the water. He wanted to get his before the night was done, and he did.

Booker contributed 16 of his 32 points to ensure the Suns were ready for any type of Minnesota response, and Phoenix had a 35-31 third quarter behind Booker to keep it at a big margin so the fourth quarter could be easy enough, even after the Timberwolves found some energy finally.

Payne kept up his great form as a starter last year. He had 23 points, six rebounds, eight assists, one steal and zero turnovers. Booker’s 10 assists and one turnover means it was 18 assists and one turnover for the starting backcourt without Paul.

The Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert both had issues with foul trouble in both halves and were ineffective when they were able to stay on the floor with the game still in hand. Towns, in particular, was a player the Suns had an extra point to prove when facing him on either side of the court. You know when there’s a little extra attitude there against a specific guy for whatever reason? It was one of those.

Phoenix shot 16-of-35 (45.7%) from 3-point range and ended up with 32 assists to just 11 turnovers.

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