EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns’ teeth-pulling season ends in sweep via Anthony Edwards, T-Wolves

Apr 28, 2024, 11:34 PM | Updated: Apr 29, 2024, 1:05 am

PHOENIX — It’s a cruel game.

A season of Phoenix Suns basketball that at times felt like a specific brand of cruelty toward their fanbase fittingly ended with a level of basketball vitriol handed out by the Minnesota Timberwolves and Anthony Edwards, with Sunday’s 122-116 Suns loss sweeping Phoenix away into another offseason facing massive changes.

For the first time this series, the Suns got multiple stars to show up. For the first time this series, Devin Booker did show up. And it didn’t matter, because it wasn’t Booker’s time or Kevin Durant’s time.

It’s Edwards’ now.

Through three quarters, Booker and Kevin Durant assisted or scored 85 of their team’s 92 points, a Herculean attempt to win this game practically by themselves. It only got the Suns a two-point lead through a very tight contest.

“I think pride was on the line but everybody’s response is that it should have been from the start and I completely agree,” Booker said when asked of the difference in this game and the other three that were far less competitive.

And once that Suns pair started to slow down just a pinch, Edwards devoured them.

In the fourth quarter when Booker and Durant lost a flow for the first time and missed three straight shots, Minnesota scored on all three possessions to lead by three. One was assisted by Edwards and another was an Edwards 20-footer, an indicator he was about to engulf the arena.

Edwards then drilled a pull-up 3, another middy and a step-back triple, a sequence that included an incredible block of Booker at the rim.

Phoenix kept generating enough good offense to stay within a possession, the scoreboard telling a different tale than what we were watching. The stretch everyone was waiting for, the Suns shooting themselves in the foot with the game on the line, came via back-to-back Bradley Beal turnovers that sandwiched an Edwards dunk that was less of a dagger and more of a two-handed greatsword.

“So impressed with Ant,” Durant said. “My favorite player to watch. Just grown so much since he came into the league at 22 (years old now). Just his love for the game shines bright and that’s one of the reasons why I like him the most is because he just loves basketball, he’s grateful to be in this position, he’s taken advantage of every opportunity he’s gotten — love everything about Ant.”

Edwards finished with 40 points (13-of-23), nine rebounds, six assists, one steal and two blocks. To be clear, the Suns haven’t been eliminated four straight years based solely on all-time players of his generation defeating them, but it has been some special performances landing the final blows. Edwards was so good over these four games that it’s fair to put him alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo (2021), Luka Doncic (’22) and Nikola Jokic (’23) in the superstar stratosphere he reached against Phoenix.

Booker reached 49 points (13-for-21) to go with five rebounds, six assists, two steals and a block. Durant added 33 points (12-for-17), nine rebounds, five assists and four blocks.

It was an inexcusable series from both all the way around, particularly Booker, but he certainly defied the allegations that his game goes flat in elimination games.

Beal had his worst game of the season, battling with foul trouble all night and ending up at nine points (4-for-13), two assists and six turnovers while fouling out. His two teammates at long last showed an ability to rise above Phoenix’s turmoil on the big stage, but Beal could not while also going in the opposite direction.

This was presumably the last game for the Suns with Frank Vogel as head coach. The Athletic dropped a report under an hour after the season was over, detailing what we all could see being conveyed on the court, that Vogel had lost the locker room. There is a delicate balance between not shifting all of the blame on Vogel while acknowledging the team’s fundamental problems with executing and sustaining all season can only be rooted back the most to the head coach.

The consistency was never there beyond spurts, something the players began to admit toward the end of the season. Again, they don’t escape criticism and deserve plenty. Playoff games are swung by a few possessions and count this one down as one of ’em. Edwards had been struggling to find scoring avenues for the whole first half, and after a Minnesota miss, Karl-Anthony Towns got by Durant for an offensive rebound and Booker lost track of Edwards for an open 3.

On the next possession, Edwards got free again, this time in transition for another trey-ball to gift-wrap him the rhythm he’d been sorely missing.

“I would say the details,” Booker said of what plagued the Suns this season. “I’ve been on a pretty successful team, KD’s won a ring. … Everybody would say this is the time where the details mattered and it’s something that we kind of passed by and didn’t think was a big deal but it came back and bit us in the ass.”

Edwards will get all the shine but this should be the performance T-Wolves fans remember Towns by. His shot-making was sublime and he was carrying Minnesota’s offense for 2.5 quarters, waiting for anyone else to help him out. Towns’ postseason career has been rocky to say the least but his 28-point, 10-rebound effort on Sunday was tremendous and a step toward a phenomenal talent putting something together in the playoffs.

Despite all the extra room on the floor for the Suns, they only got up 26 3-pointers, as Minnesota’s counter to the small-ball lineups was mostly letting the star duo beat them as opposed to allowing Phoenix’s ball and player movement to finally function. The Suns totaled 20 assists.

Durant fairly did not want to elaborate on any of those details Booker was alluding to, noting anything he mentioned would look like an excuse.

“Like I’ve been saying, we were just inconsistent with our play and the style of play that we wanted,” Durant said.

In a way, that being accurately portrayed over all four games of the sweep made it perfectly understandable how this spectacular failure came to be.

Basketball is at its best when a group is connected, where you’ll see the benefits come together just as naturally as the team does itself. It’s particularly awesome because it does not take a trained eye to see that on the floor. We all know what it looks like.

The same goes for the inverse. When there’s something off, we all see it.

What’s going on behind closed doors doesn’t stay there, and that’s part of what makes the game so cruel.

Empire of the Suns

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