It was far from a perfect game for your Phoenix Suns, but the biggest positive you can take out of it is simply this: they found a way to win.
And at the end of the day, all that matters in the standings is that the Suns pulled out a 111-105 victory, even if they got clobbered on the boards in the second half and nearly let a team that had lost 15 in a row come back from a 25-point deficit.
After a shaky first quarter that featured the Suns missing nine of their first 10 shots, the Suns thoroughly dominated the second period, a quarter they won by a 40-19 margin and built a 25-point lead in.
At this point with the Suns playing so well and the Wolves so poorly, you would think the game would be over and we’d have another 30-point blowout on our hands.
The Timberwolves clawed back thanks to a dominant effort on the backboards, outrebounding the Suns 58-41 and securing 20 caroms off the offensive glass. Kevin Love went for 23 points and 22 boards off the bench (tell me again why Darko starts over him), including eight offensive rebounds, and Al Jefferson added 19 and 16. In all the combination of Love and Jefferson corralled three fewer boards than the entire Suns team.
It’s rare for a team to dominate the backboards so completely yet lose, but that just shows you how bad the Wolves are.
What’s amazing is that when these teams met up back on March 16 in Phoenix, a 152-114 Suns win, Phoenix actually took the battle of the boards by a margin of 47-37. That’s a 27-board turnaround between the two games for those of you scoring at home.
Kevin Love was a non-factor in that one, scoring three points on 0-for-7 shooting and grabbing seven boards, and Al Jefferson went for a quiet 13 and eight.
You all know where I’m going next, and this couldn’t completely explain why the Love-Jefferson duo torched the Suns on Sunday but made a minimal impact a couple weeks ago, but it certainly jumps out like a sore thumb.
Yes, the Suns certainly miss Robin Lopez, who went for 12 points and nine boards in that one.
It will take more than one game to see if the Suns miss him this much, but Lopez will often put his big body on the opposition’s best rebounder and that allows other Suns to grab the board.
There’s a reason the Suns improved their rebounding differential by 7.1 a game when Lopez was inserted into the starting lineup and began playing big minutes. But he can’t make this big of a difference, right?
Of course, now Amare Stoudemire (who wasn’t exactly a slouch with 30 points and 17 boards) is the primary rebounder, and he plays with either Channing Frye, Lou Amundson (a great boarder but undersized) or Jarron Collins, who is such a zero offensively it’s hard to play him. But Collins may be what the Suns need if they get obliterated this badly on the backboards.
For all the positives, this game felt like it was spiraling out of control in a hurry, and when Minnesota cut the 25-point lead to one on a Wayne Ellington runner with 8:30 left, I felt the Suns were going to lose. The old Suns that lost 12 of 13 on the road would have lost with the Wolves grabbing every rebound and the Suns seemingly incapable of doing anything about it.
But there’s a reason the Suns now boast a positive 18-17 road record these days, having won nine of 11 away from Phoenix. They just never let Minnesota take the lead, with Dudley making a layup off a nice Dragic pass and then Goran sticking a jumper to bring the lead back to five.
I know they played a trash team, but it’s a very positive development nonetheless for the Suns to show the kind of hardiness to take back command of a game they had lost control of, and really the Suns are now 17-5 on the road when you take out that one horrendous 13-game stretch.
“I think we’ve got to play better, we’ve got to put teams away,” center Channing Frye told Suns.com. “But a win’s a win, I’m not complaining.”
With the victory Phoenix reduced its magic number to one and continued to take care of business against teams it should beat, as this was the Suns’ 15th straight win over a non-playoff team. The Suns have done this all season long against the dregs of the conference, as they finished 15-1 against the Clippers, Kings, Warriors and Wolves, with the lone loss coming Dec. 26 in Oakland.
The win helped the Suns stay right in the thick of the Nos. 2-5 race, a bunched-up chase that features four solid teams within a game of each other. The Suns are holding down the No. 5 spot, a game behind Dallas and a half game behind Utah and Denver, teams they are tied with in the loss column. They also moved 2 1/2 games up on Oklahoma City, San Antonio and Portland.
“It’s a great win, because it’s a win on the road,” said Suns head coach Alvin Gentry. “It gives us a win so we can keep pace with the people we’re chasing and hold the people off that are chasing us.
The Suns swept the season series with Minnesota for the first time since 1994-95. … The Suns’ streak of eight consecutive 30-point quarters came to an end in the first, but they followed it up with a 40-point quarter that was better than any period during the run. … With nine games remaining, Phoenix has already won more games than it did last season. … Channing Frye scored 17 points (off five threes) and Leandro Barbosa went for 16 off the bench. LB is becoming The Blur again, as he scored 10 straight points early in the second quarter to push an eight-point lead to 18. … The Arizona Republic’s Dan Bickley wrote a noteworthy column on the Suns’ chemistry on Sunday. See, I’m not the only one who writes about that stuff! …. Suns.com recently posted a nice feature on Steve Kerr’s trip to the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. The Suns’ GM isn’t exactly Daryl Morey, but I certainly hope Kerr and the Suns take advantage of all the advanced stats available. If they don’t then they will be behind the Dallas’ and Houstons of the world.