PHOENIX SUNS

On a Bradley Beal off night, small-ball Suns can’t avoid T-Wolves sweep

Apr 28, 2024, 9:38 PM | Updated: Apr 29, 2024, 1:06 am

PHOENIX — Finally, the Phoenix Suns made significant changes to both their energy levels and scheme. It only took facing elimination against the Minnesota Timberwolves, down 0-3 to set up Game 4 at Footprint Center.

It was too little and too late, but the question was if it would even be enough to at least stay alive.

Even with Devin Booker and Kevin Durant combining for 82 points, it wasn’t. Phoenix fell 122-116 after an easily labeled failure of a season considering where they started in the first year of the Big Three.

When it counted most, Phoenix withered. Down 113-111 with under three minutes to play, a beautiful offensive possession saw the ball swing from a Durant post touch through every player to the other side of the court, but Bradley Beal’s drive from the opposite corner and cross-court pass back to Durant was intercepted.

On the other end, T-Wolves star Anthony Edwards cleared it out, drove past Beal and tomahawked a dunk over the help defense to put Minnesota ahead by four.

Beal fouled out soon after to finish with nine points on 4-of-13 shooting, plus six turnovers. He and Jusuf Nurkic were the third-highest scorers for Phoenix.

“I think anytime you get into foul trouble, it just disrupts the rhythm of your whole game,” Suns coach Frank Vogel said.

The Suns at least gave themselves a chance for the first time in the brief series. They turned their defensive physicality to a 10 on the dial to hold the T-Wolves to 38% shooting in the first half. And they had to, knowing that they opted out of matching against Minnesota’s size in exchange for court-spacing and pace.

They got the expected help from Booker (49 points) and Durant (33), somewhat overcoming a Beal clunker of a night. It was Booker’s eighth playoff game hitting 40 or more points as he set a playoff career high for a fourth time.

But for Minnesota, Karl-Anthony Towns and Edwards did everything to meet their opponents, with 28 and 40 points, respectively.

Eric Gordon was the first sub off Phoenix’s bench — for center Jusuf Nurkic.

Josh Okogie was the second sub to make a small-ball, 5-out lineup, and he ended up easily scoring on a rim-roll after setting a high screen soon after entry. It was a reward for playing well in what at the time seemed like insignificant minutes toward the end of Game 3.

Gordon was heavily utilized, but the eighth man for the night was Nassir Little. He began the second quarter and immediately got scored on by Rudy Gobert and then Karl-Anthony Towns.

While Phoenix got battered on the offensive glass, it felt for the first time in the series Frank Vogel’s team had at least dictated the terms and set the tone of a game.

“We tried to look at something different. There’s a proven formula to try to get Rudy Gobert either exposed or off the floor,” Vogel said, admitting he’s not a fan of going that small.

And with that energy came just a 10-7 second-chance point deficit at halftime and a 61-56 lead.

Even with 16 offensive rebounds allowed by the end of the game, the Suns only lost second-chance point battle by two, 17-15.

Even when center Jusuf Nurkic reappeared in the second quarter, the Suns had something of a rhythm. Twice on a push up the court, Nurkic caught the ball on the high left wing with Kevin Durant in the corner, and twice Nurkic hit Durant, who faked to catch a dribble-handoff and backcut for an easy dunk with the T-Wolves not even back on defense to help.

Phoenix limited its turnovers as well, with 11 for the game.

To make a point about the pace, Phoenix scored 23 points off just nine Minnesota turnovers.

But despite the changes for good and Booker and Durant showing up for an elimination game, Minnesota lurked. The Suns never led by more than six points.

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