You lose to the worst team (by record) in the league and then have to play them the following evening on a back-to-back. The great thing about that wrinkle in the 2020-21 schedule? It allows for you not to linger, to dwell, and to overthink a poor performance from last night.
It was a mental challenge more than anything on Friday night for the Phoenix Suns as they lost their head coach via ejection and once again clashed with not only the opposition, but the referees as well.
Ultimately the Suns cleared their minds, fought through the adversity, and dominated the fourth quarter to win by 12.
Minnesota was determined to push the pace early, scoring 10 of their first 20 points via the fast break. Their starters outscored those from Phoenix 20-19 through the first 5:23 led by Karl Anthony-Towns (again). He scored 9 of the Wolves first 20 points. Anthony Edwards, conversely, was held scoreless in quarter numero uno on 0-for-2 shooting.
Although not as careless as the first quarter last night (10 team turnovers), Phoenix still had issues handling the rock. Devin Booker had 3 of the Suns 4 TO’s in the first and every loose ball seemed to go the T-Wolves way. The Suns just weren’t securing the ball.
Thankfully their shooting was on point as the team went 12-20 to start the game (60%) and 4-7 from beyond the arc (57.1%). Booker, who is currently 6th in the NBA with 8.1 points-per-first-quarter, led all Suns’ scorers with 8 points in the first. Suns up 5 after one.
This is like a layup for Book... pic.twitter.com/Yt38SSnYbt— FOX Sports Arizona (@FOXSPORTSAZ) March 20, 2021
It was the Abdel Nader show early in the second quarter...good, bad, or indifferent. One minute he is slamming down a put back dunk, the next he has the entire Minnesota Timberwolves defense collapsing on him. Nader minute to minute mirrors the career of Deandre Ayton: consistently in consistent.
Nader's game plan, shoot the ball no matter how many people are on him pic.twitter.com/xivmj7dOm4— Saltiest Suns Fan 26-12 (@SaltiestAzFan) March 20, 2021
Monty Williams found himself headed to the locker room after arguing with the officials mid way through the second quarter. It appeared as if the lopsided foul calls a night ago, coupled with more questionable calls in the second, finally aggravated him to his boiling point. Willie Green, Suns lead assistant, was tasked with coaching the team through the remainder of the game.
Get him coach...get him. pic.twitter.com/tlsegVd1H6— Mike Vigil (@protectedpick) March 20, 2021
Phoenix responded with a 14-0 run to go up 60-47. Langston Galloway began to heat up as he poured in 11 first-half points on 4-5 shooting (3-4 from deep). As it typically does after the ejection of a coach, the whistles started to go in favor of the Suns, from calling fouls when they actually occurred to travels on the rookie Edwards.
Last night it was Edwards and KAT, tonight it was former Sun Ricky Rubio and KAT; both had 15 points (30 of Minny’s 54). Booker had 15 as well and the Suns bench outscored the T-Wolves 28-10 in the first half. Minnesota closed the gap to 10 by the half; Suns 64, Wolves 54.
One minute and eighteen seconds into the second half, Deandre Ayton picked up his fourth foul and head to the bench. The call mirrored many of the recent calls on Ayton: debatable. His departure was followed by 6 quick Timberwolves’ points that cut the lead to 4. It is safe to say that DA is excited to see the Wolves hop on their tram plane and leave town as he has had a rough couple of nights.
DA gets his 4th foul less than 90 seconds in. That one was iffy. Dario back in.— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) March 20, 2021
Ayton would not return until 6:29 left in the 4th.
The 10-point halftime lead evaporated quickly as Minnesota came out of the locker room and scored the first 15 points. The Suns didn't score until 7:26 in the third on a Chris Paul jumper.
Phoenix continued to be agitated by the refereeing as Devin Booker picked up his 9th technical foul after a no call on a drive to the rim. That ties him with Dwight Howard and Draymond Green for 2nd most in the NBA.
Willie Green tried to stabilize the choppy third quarter by playing his star guards Devin Booker and Chris Paul for the entire period.
CP3 scored 11 of the Suns 19 points in the third, including an impressive take on the rookie.
YOU! CANNOT! GUARD! THIS!@Suns pic.twitter.com/9Lk8Z1N1jD— FOX Sports Arizona (@FOXSPORTSAZ) March 20, 2021
Suns up 5 entering Q4.
Booker and Paul sat to start the 4th as Langston Galloway and Cameron Payne took their place, along with Frank Kaminsky, Mikal Bridges, and Jae Crowder. That unit played the best all-around basketball of the evening, deflecting passed, forcing turnovers, and hitting their shots. They began the fourth on an 11-3 run and pushed their lead to 13, the Suns’ largest of the game.
point galloway pic.twitter.com/6DKbwtMTZt— RidiculousCage (@ridiculouscage) March 20, 2021
The respite for the Suns’ All Stars lasted 5 minutes. Paul promptly reentered the game and knocked down a 3-pointer and began leading his team down the home stretch. He scored, he dished, he coached, he played defense. He proved in the second half, amidst the chaos and dung dishing, that there are many ways to win a basketball game. Some are with fluidity, some are with finesse.
Tonight is was grit.
Phoenix held Anthony Edwards, who dropped a career high on Thursday, to a total of 11 points on 4-18 shooting. Towns had his 24 points and 9 boards and Rubio added 21.
The Suns were led by Paul’s 20 points and 9 assists. Galloway led the bench unit with 14.
The Suns play their second of three regular games versus the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday. Phoenix defeated the Anthony Davis-less Lakers by 10 points on March 2. Win this game and you hold the tie breaker over Los Angeles if need be come playoff time.
Until next time!