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An unusually aggressive Suns defensive gameplan fueled win over Wolves

Phoenix doubled Karl-Anthony Towns on most of his inside-the-arc possessions, disrupting Minnesota’s flow

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

]The Phoenix Suns made it clear pretty early on in their 107-100 win that no matter what kind of night Minnesota Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns had, it wasn’t going to be easy.

On the first possession where Towns was asked to create, he saw Kevin Durant in front of him before help came in the form of another 7-footer, Deandre Ayton. Phoenix was showing a level of defensive aggression we aren’t used to seeing as early as 100 seconds into the ball game.

Dating back years upon years, I’ve had a bit of a gripe with the Suns’ defensive philosophy. It’s felt a lot of the time to me like the team is content defending passively, almost taking what the offense gives them and trying to contest shots rather than disrupting actions themselves.

It’s hard to quantify this to show what I mean, but I’ll do my best.

  • 12th in the league with 14.2 deflections per game; many of their contending contemporaries are ahead, like the Warriors, Clippers, Grizzlies, and Wolves.
  • 14th in steals at 7.2 per game (they’re 1.0 away from 30th and 2.2 away from 1st); had 11 steals as a team against Minnesota
  • send doubles on just 17.8% of the post-ups they defend over the season; sent doubles on five of six Towns post-ups
  • trap on just 1.7% of the pick-and-rolls they defend; trapped on none against Minnesota with their main pick-and-roll threat Anthony Edwards dealing with an illness, not as eager to attack

The added emphasis on disruption in the gameplan continued to be a factor all game long, with Devin Booker throwing his hat in the ring early on as well, helping to cut off this look for Towns and forcing a pass out:

Despite the aggressive defense, Towns still made some shots because at the end of the day that’s what great shooters do, finishing with 25 points on 9-17 shooting (5-10 3P). Phoenix made some necessary adjustments at halftime after Towns scored 20 (7-12 FG) points in the first half and held him to just five (2-5 FG) in the second.

Crucially, Booker mustered up the strength to get one final stop against Towns that acted as a dagger from the defense, stonewalling a drive with a full head of steam.

Josh Okogie also played a huge role in disrupting the Wolves’ flow, especially with his hustle plays in clutch time. He and Ayton combined for three steals and four blocks while Booker had four steals, including the game-clinching one. Here are all 11 defensive highlights from those three:

When it comes down to it, the defensive gameplan was outstanding overall in holding Minnesota to 100 points on a night when four teams scored 130+ across the Association. The Suns forced 21 turnovers, and that should be one of the bigger talking points from the game. A disruptive Phoenix defense paved the way to a win despite cold-as-ice shooting for most of the night.

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