The Suns started out the game well with the starting unit jetting out to an early lead thet they held throughout the first quarter behind the hot shooting of Jared Dudley and Steve Nash. However, Marcin Gortat picked up two quick fouls in the first quarter, and was replaced less than halfway in by Robin Lopez who played most of the minutes from that point on as Gortat couldn't stop picking up the fouls every time he entered the game.
For the Wolves, it was Nikola Pekovic who came out hot early on making the most of his opportunities to score when the Suns doubled Kevin Love; taking advantage of mismatches and late defensive rotations. The Suns' plan to shut down Love seemed to work, but Pekovic was more than willing to be the go-to scorer and he made the Suns pay. Pekovic scored 15 points in the first quarter alone before the Suns finally starting adjusting to him. Still, the Suns maintained a lead through the first quarter due to shooting 62% from the field, and led the Wolves 34-28 heading into the second quarter.
The Suns second unit struggled in the second quarter as the T-Wolves' bench thrived. First it was Michael Beasley who came out hot hitting his first three 3-pointers and starting out 6-7 from the field overall, scoring 15 points in the second quarter alone. Beasley's hot shooting was exacerbated by a back injury that forced Grant Hill to head into the locker room for most of the second quarter.
Derrick Williams and Wayne Ellington also joined the party off the bench as they each pumped in 12 points of their own as the Wolves bench exploded for 40 points in the first half. The T-Wolves outscored the Suns 35-22 in the second quarter to lead the Suns 63-56 at the half, and as our own Alex Laugan has pointed out, the second quarter has been able to predict the eventual outcome of the game with nearly 90% accuracy...So perhaps we should have seen this coming.
Read on after the jump for more...
The second half of the game started out well for the Suns as the starters once again took control with Jared Dudley shooting lights out from everywhere on the court and Grant Hill back on the floor to anchor the defense. The Suns briefly went up by as many as five points to lead 78-73 halfway through the quarter, but just when it started looking like the Suns would finally pull away, the T-Wolves came howling back with Wesley Johnson leading the charge scoring seven quick points to tie it back up. The lead went back and forth from there, but still, the Suns outscored the Wolves 34-29 in the third quarter and cut the lead to 92-90 heading into the fourth.
The fourth quarter was an all-out offensive showcase with both teams seemingly scoring at will. The score went back and forth with nearly every possession, and neither team ever led by more than four points at any time in the quarter. Sebastian Telfair tried his best to will the Suns to a victory early on in the fourth scoring 10 points in the first eight minutes before Nash replaced him with just four minutes left in the game. But Kevin Love was also hot for the Wolves in the fourth scoring thirteen points and keeping the T-Wolves in the game. The T-Wolves eventually pulled ahead by three points with 17 seconds left in the game before Gortat was fouled and sent to the line where he could have brought the Suns to within one. But as was the case all night, Gortat just couldn't put it together and missed both of his free throws with 12 seconds remaining, and the Wolves were able to hang on for the win.
Keys To The Loss:
- Gortat's foul trouble was obviously the biggest contributing factor in last night's loss. Robin Lopez appeared to play fairly well in the first half, but he scored only two points in the second half totaling 10 points in 24 minutes and only grabbing only 3 rebounds. Lopez also had a -14, the lowest on the team. Conversely, Gortat actually scored 8 points, grabbed 4 rebounds, and had a +9 for his 19 minutes of play which was a team high. So if Gortat was able to stay in the game longer I'm pretty sure the result would have been different. Not only that, but Gortat just wasn't the same player when playing in foul trouble. It was obvious he was playing tentatively and was not nearly as effective as usual.
- The Wolves front court tandem of Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic was more than the Suns bargained for. Love and Pekovic combined for 54 points and 15 rebounds, and shot 22-40 from the field at 55%. The Suns obviously had a game plan to stop Love early, and it almost worked. However, Pek and his teammates were ready to make the Suns pay for doubling Love in the post and they found Nikola early and often as he took advantage of all the attention being paid to his counterpart in the first half. Once the dust settled and the Suns finally adjusted, it was Love's turn to come on strong as he scored 23 points in the second half on mostly wide open threes that the Suns failed to defend.
- The Wolves bench played great. As I pointed out in my game preview, the T-Wolves bench is chock full of talent but they are inconsistent at times, so you never know what you are going to get. Well last night the Suns got the brunt of the firepower of the Wolves' second unit, as Michael Beasley and Wayne Ellington scored 15 points a piece and Derrick Williams exploded for 19. The Wolves bench combined 52 points in all, but most of that damage was done in the second quarter when the Suns were without Grant Hill.
This was a tough loss for the Suns who had been playing so well since the All-Star break. Even in last night's loss, the Suns definitely played well enough to win but simply couldn't overcome some of their key setbacks. It was the perfect storm of various mishaps for the Suns which the T-Wolves were able to capitalize on. That's not to take anything away from the Timberwolves, they played excellent and deserved this win. But the Suns simply could not play to their usual strengths last night due to the foul trouble of Gortat and the injury to Grant Hill in the second quarter; both of which proved to be critical factors that ultimately helped decide the game in the end.
Don't hang your heads Suns' fans, this team is still on a roll and should be able to bounce back against Utah on Wednesday. This loss was a setback for sure, but this team is definitely playing at a much higher level than they were in the first half of the season. Let's see if they are resilient enough to rebound quickly and get a much needed win tomorrow!