EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Slow burn of Suns’ splintering nears end, T-Wolves take 3-0 lead

Apr 26, 2024, 11:55 PM | Updated: Apr 27, 2024, 8:56 am

PHOENIX — Sometimes, the playoffs can misrepresent what a team was in the regular season.

The Phoenix Suns are not having that problem.

A group that showed major fractures all season didn’t magically heal over the course of just a few weeks and is one game away from getting swept in the first round after a 126-109 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday.

Pardon the solar pun but it has been the slowest of burns over a painfully repetitive cycle.

In the theme of the series and season, Phoenix’s play showcased plenty of encouraging signs, this time in the early-going. It was just a matter of waiting to see if the Suns could sustain that, knowing in all likelihood they would not.

They did not.

Through a frantic, unplugged first quarter for both squads, the Suns found success picking up the pace to create fluid offensive movement and as a result attempts from 3 and the foul line. They took nine triples and 15 free tosses before the totals in the middle quarters combined were seven 3s and nine free throws. This was not even close to a complete encapsulation of the game but a pair of numbers that paint a decent enough picture of the inconsistency.

Minnesota stayed solid enough, the story of this matchup so far. It was not a lights-out effort by the T-Wolves but they clawed to a productive opening dozen minutes before everyone contributed in the next two periods. At the end of the third quarter, the T-Wolves had six players with between 12-18 points.

The Suns missed a bunch of decent looks early, including a few layups, putting themselves within a possession or two in either direction against Minnesota instead of in control of the game at home. Despite the T-Wolves dealing with tremendous foul trouble in the first half, they led by six at halftime.

Just like Games 1 and 2, the third quarter forecasted doom, the end being nigh. Anyone who has gotten to know this Suns team’s lows sees it coming once the falling apart briefly commences. Minnesota extended its lead to 11 with a little over eight minutes left in the third quarter to signal the spiraling was imminent.

The T-Wolves doubled the lead to 22 by the end of the period.

Why does it happen? No one has the answers, including the team.

Can Devin Booker pinpoint it?

“No, I cannot.”

How does Bradley Beal evaluate it when things are clicking into place at one point and then it’s a jumbled-up mess just a short while later?

“I’m not really sure what happens in those instances but I know for the majority of it we do have times in which adversity hits and we’ll kind of get flat,” Beal said. “We gotta get out of that, get away from that. We have to continue to compete, continue to push. Teams are gonna go on their runs just like we go on our runs — that’s the game. Why it happens? I wish I had an answer. I know that’s probably not what you want to hear.”

Head coach Frank Vogel was asked if he believes there’s a correlation between when his team breaks down or if it’s basketball circumstances, a coincidental flow of each game.

“The first two games I thought it was two different things,” he said. “I gotta look at the tape tonight. I really feel like, we just missed a lot of shots and we left some of their shooters open. They were able to separate and get a lead.”

So he doesn’t think it’s a mental thing?

“No.”

The vast difference in adjustments and execution of those adjustments, the No. 1 talking point of the preview for Game 3 covered in this space, continued. If this doofus you’re reading can see it, obviously the professional basketball organization can. And yet, they are totally hopeless in that process, both the players and the coaches inside the total collective.

Because of the Suns’ ineptitude when it comes to properly jelling and flowing off each other like a good basketball team is supposed to, it’s basketball warts wack-a-mole. Phoenix only turned the ball over 10 times but allowed 19 second-chance points, an issue from Game 1 that popped right back up.

It was another Suns outing where neither Beal, Booker nor Kevin Durant could lift their team and go beyond the suffocating limitations of the group’s alarming connectivity. They are a Big 3 and we are looking at a three-game sample of Phoenix not having one of the best three or even four players on the floor. And I’d listen to arguments going further down the list.

An elimination game looms for Booker, who has been the one constant around what looks like it will be three straight years of embarrassing playoff exits. Are we ready to see that become his legacy? Some people are already there. This is instead of him becoming the guy who should be widely considered the best player in franchise history. But now that comes with its own question marks attached and I’m sure lots of frustrated Suns fans reading that scoffed at the mere suggestion of that label now.

The Timberwolves’ depth was a concern coming into this matchup and Game 3 is when that all came together.

Anthony Edwards took over in a mildly rocky fourth quarter for Minnesota to get up to 36 points with nine rebounds, five assists and two steals. Consider this series his coronation. Karl-Anthony Towns feasted on smaller defenders to drive to 18 points and 13 rebounds while it was another great Rudy Gobert night, 19 points and 14 rebounds.

Mike Conley kept things relatively afloat over the patches when Edwards was sifting through double-teams, contributing 14 points and seven assists. Both Nickeil Alexander-Walker (16 points) and Naz Reid (13) had great games off the bench. Alexander-Walker, in particular, is introducing himself to the casual basketball fan and is going to make a whole lot of money in the summer of 2025.

Phoenix was without Grayson Allen (right ankle sprain) but it’s not even worth getting into the impact of that or rotation choices beyond him with what is truly plaguing the Suns.

Empire of the Suns

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