EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns hit first, jumble up Timberwolves in 3rd straight win

Apr 5, 2024, 10:50 PM | Updated: Apr 6, 2024, 8:32 am

PHOENIX — It has not been to the consistent standard they’ll need in the postseason, but the Phoenix Suns are at four very good wins out of five after Friday’s 97-87 final over the Minnesota Timberwolves, and the past two games at Footprint Center have featured some major highs.

This one was unique because it came on the defensive end.

Phoenix entered Friday tied for 25th in opposing turnover percentage (12.5%) but it forced 19 for 24 points. The immediate 10-0 advantage in points off turnovers half-a-quarter in set the tone for the type of night it was going to be. The Suns began the game on a 15-0 run off that.

Minnesota was constantly swarmed when it brought the ball into the middle of the floor, unable to either take a good shot, make the right decision or trigger ball movement to lead to a better look. Phoenix got its hands everywhere, from passing lanes to dribble drives.

“Our gap helps — I watched our game from when we played these guys earlier in the season and it was night and day,” Suns head coach Frank Vogel said. “Just night and day how spread apart our defense was. We were not a tight shell, and we’ve really grown. It takes time.”

“We did great,” Grayson Allen said of the defensive effort. “A lot of deflections and steals. A lot of making guys pick the ball up earlier than they want to and getting back out to the shooters. … This was one of our best communication games of the season. Everyone talking on the back side, loading up, talking about who has the low man, who has the first pass out to the 3-point shooters — it was just great all-around defensively.”

The Suns are a different team when they can muck it up a bit for the other offense because it allows them to play with pace more frequently. This was not an offensive clinic by them. They only attempted 25 3s, shot under 45% overall for just the 18th time this year and turned it over 18 times. Minnesota in the first three quarters scored 61 points and Phoenix’s last three amounted to 65.

The first half, however, was arguably the best two quarters of defense the Suns have played this year and it allowed them to lead by 16.

You know how the trope of today’s NBA is a 20-point lead is nothing these days? It absolutely was on Friday, the first Suns contest this year with both teams finishing south of 100 points.

They haven’t participated in many rock fights this year. Kevin Durant noted how fans should expect to see more leaguewide in the playoffs, when the style of play changes and physicality is at an all-time high.

Durant confirmed it can be a confidence booster for the Suns to win one this way.

“I think all the great teams play in a variety of ways and being able to adapt to how the game is being played,” he said.

Minnesota shot 38.8%, had 23 assists to 19 turnovers and at one point was a woeful 6-for-22 (28.6%) at the rim, continuously botching finishes in that area.

Midway through the third quarter with the Suns up 18, Jusuf Nurkic picked up his fifth foul. The Suns predictably tailed off from quality play when he went to the bench but Minnesota continued to make mistakes and didn’t take advantage of a much sloppier third quarter out of the Suns that managed to keep them still ahead by 16. The flow was ugly all the way around.

With that in mind, Phoenix hit first on Friday and deserves credit for throwing Minnesota off its game, earning that type of separation. That was all the game came down to.

Because of that, the Suns did not require a big night offensively from anyone. All five starters were in double figures and Allen’s 23 points led the way. Devin Booker had 13 assists and seven turnovers to go with his 13 points while Durant shot 9-of-14 for 22 points with six rebounds, six assists and one turnover.

Nurkic was great with 11 points, 15 rebounds, six assists, three steals, a block and four turnovers. He did a very good job contributing to Phoenix tunneling off driving lanes and Vogel shouted out Nurkic’s defensive improvement postgame.

Minnesota reserve center Naz Reid has been awesome while Karl-Anthony Towns (knee) heals up but was limited to just eight points. Anthony Edwards was 6-of-19 for 17 points, a poor outing for the rising star that Phoenix also contained rather well in its win over Minnesota in November.

“You can’t force him to do nothin’,” Durant said with a laugh of the job defending Edwards. “You just gotta win the numbers game, just have more players on him. Two or three guys in his area. We’re not selling out to stop him but you show presentation like there is more help than it is and hopefully that deters him a bit.”

The complete product over the last five games has not been perfect or to the standard where Phoenix is making huge strides to conclude the season, but it has won four of its last five against high-level competition. It is now the favorite to finish with the No. 6 seed, and after the daunting schedule suggested a play-in tournament fate was in the cards, it has been a turnaround of sorts at the right time.

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