Phoenix Suns 104, Minnesota Timberwolves 95 — Tough on Love

Posted by on March 1st, 9:29 pm

Channing Frye and the Suns' defense limited Kevin Love to 8-for-25 shooting and just 10 boards. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Channing Frye and the Suns' defense limited Kevin Love to 8-for-25 shooting and just 10 boards. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns’ shooting was red hot. Their defense strengthened as Thursday’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves wore on. They even dominated the boards for the first three quarters against a team with more length on the wings and beef on the interior than you could shake a extra-long beefstick at.

But it didn’t make things easy when the Suns turned the ball over 15 times by the end of the third, nor when they didn’t do anything to force the young Timberwolves into mistakes of their own. That changed in the fourth, when Minnesota turned it over five more times and the Suns outscored the upstart T-Wolves 27-21 to punch in a 104-95 victory in US Airways Center.

By the end of the night, the Suns had won the rebounding battle to the tune of 44-37 in a game that got gritty down the stretch. The mix of Channing Frye, Markieff Morris, Marcin Gortat and Robin Lopez kept the NBA’s second-leading rebounder, Kevin Love, frustrated throughout as he finished with a below-average 10 boards.

“I thought they did a good job of banging and that’s what they are — (Nikola) Pekovic and Love, that’s what they love to do is bang in there,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. “I thought Marsh (Gortat), and Robin and Channing and Markieff did a good job of banging back and trying to hold their ground with those guys.

“We also did a good job of stepping out and making contact before we went to rebound the basketball,” Gentry added. “So when we did, when they pushed us, there were some (foul) calls made that helped.”

Gortat added 17 points and Steve Nash put up 17 assists to lead Phoenix, but it was Grant Hill’s second half, 15-point explosion that made the difference offensively. Cross-matched against co-point guard Luke Ridnour, who started alongside point guard Ricky Rubio, Gentry called Hill’s number in the second half, helping the 39-year-old finish with a team-high 20 points.

“With him guarding Ridnour and then us in transition, it was hard for them to get back and for them to match up,” Gentry said. “We were going to try to see if we could post the ball and create double teams. I thought Grant did a good job of reading the situation and shooting over the top.”

The Timberwolves came out slow on their third game in three nights, while the Suns came out cold following a week off. Neither squad could take advantage of first quarter miscues as the Timberwolves led just 23-22 despite 55-plus shooting percentages from both teams.

After the teams turned the ball a combined 13 times in the first quarter, Minnesota only recorded a single mishap in the next two to lead for most of the way despite Phoenix’s 56.9 percentage shooting through three quarters.

Minnesota opened up a 44-34 lead with 3:44 left in the first half and didn’t turn the ball over once in the second quarter, though Phoenix, behind its solid shooting, hung within five with a 51-46 deficit by halftime.

Meanwhile, Love and Pekovic put the Suns in a world of hurt as far as foul trouble was concerned. By halftime, Frye, Morris and Lopez had three fouls apiece, forcing formerly-pine riding power forward Hakim Warrick into eight minutes of action in the first half.

The quick whistles, however, helped Phoenix as the game wore on.

Hill said the Suns used it to their advantage, making sure to attack the Timberwolves in the tightly-officiated game that saw 53 combined free throws and 47 personal fouls called. Before it was over, both Love and Rubio and thrown their arms up several times on iffy foul calls.

“When officials are calling it close, you can’t be physical,” Hill said. “The thing that was happening was they were calling it against us, but you know, we got to take advantage of that, too. Attack, get to the basket. Once we did adjust and adapted, we just came out and had good energy.”

Hill, especially, took advantage, leading Phoenix back from its 10-point deficit.

Having led only once through the first 34 minutes of the game, Phoenix climbed back to take a 73-72 lead on a fast break dunk from Shannon Brown and went on to lead 77-74 before the final stanza.

“It just got out of control and the wheels came off,” Love said of the third quarter. “Third game in three nights for all these guys and for me being sick, I just think we had tired legs down the stretch and it caught up to us. They hit big shots and had some calls go their way, and that’s what ultimately decided the game because it came down to the last six minutes and that was really it.”

Much of the successful run to mount a Suns comeback — and to create a cushion in the fourth — was executed by the bench. They ended the evening with 28 points to help out the five starters, all of whom finished with double-digit scoring.

Brown scored 12 on 6-for-11 shooting, while Lopez recorded six boards and two blocks while he and Morris made the most of their nine combined personal fouls on the defensive end.

As a team, the Suns held the Timberwolves to 39.5 percent shooting and hit 53.2 percent themselves.

Gentry was especially pleased about the rebounding margin against Rick Adelman’s physical team. Even giving up 16 second-chance points, he said, wasn’t so bad considering the second-chance defense (5-of-13 shooting for Minnesota) wasn’t too shabby either.

But of course the Suns still sit at 15-20, well out of the playoff race. The hard-fought victory came with a warning from the Suns’ two-time MVP and captain.

“Hopefully we take this win and keep building on it,” Nash said. “We definitely have to keep improving but while we do that, we have to put some wins together. We have to make up some ground here.”

Kevin Zimmerman is the lead blogger and editor for Valley of the Suns. He is also editor of AZDesertSwarm.com, an Arizona Wildcats\’ blog, and a contributor at SB Nation and Pac-12.com.

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Tags: Minnesota Timberwolves · Phoenix Suns · Phoenix Suns Recap

21 responses so far ↓

  • 1 steve // Mar 1, 2012 at 10:05 pm

    A win is a win, but this one is less comforting knowing it was the third game of a back to back to back for the T-Wolves. I know love ended up with 23 and 10, but the Suns held his efficiency down very well. They didn’t let the best player beat them, and luckily no one else stepped up huge for minny.

  • 2 PennyAnd1 // Mar 1, 2012 at 10:09 pm

    @Steve

    I beg to differ. Love didn’t play yesterday, so he was fully rested.

    I thought this was a great win. What stand out the most was the new line-up Gentry tried tonight. Shannon was more efficient playing along side Hill.

    I like how Gentry played Hill in one squad and Nash in the other, and when needed the most played together. Hill controlling Shannon was great to see.

    If Suns can improve in over-all players this 2nd half of the season, along with tweaked line-up. The Suns just might get into the middle of the play-offs.

  • 3 shawn // Mar 1, 2012 at 10:34 pm

    That was a plain ass write up for such an awesome game and love did not play yesterday so please don’t cheapen the win with that nonsense the wolves flew in from la they were fine.

  • 4 shazam // Mar 1, 2012 at 10:57 pm

    love has the flu.and the rest of that mediocre team were tired…but dammit we did win..and the best part is that the bench rocked

  • 5 shazam // Mar 1, 2012 at 11:02 pm

    @ penny 1 , your quote—>”I like how Gentry played Hill in one squad and Nash in the other, and when needed the most played together. Hill controlling Shannon was great to see.”…that was the REAL take away from the game…u nailed it bro

  • 6 Scott // Mar 1, 2012 at 11:18 pm

    I think this is pretty much what we’ll see from Hill for the rest of the season. He had a slow start, but he’s in shape now.

    As for Brown, I’m not sure we can give Hill all the credit. Brown played a very focused game. As he acknowledged in an interview after the game, a lot of his problem has been mental. When he gets himself focused to play hard on defense and to hit his shots on offense, then he does well.

    The problem with Brown is that this is maybe the 2nd or 3rd game where he’s been focused.

    As for Hakim, it was nice to see him get a dunk in. We’ve seen so little of that this season.

    Credit to Gentry for more successfully mixing starters with bench players.

  • 7 Grover // Mar 1, 2012 at 11:50 pm

    You guys watched a different game than I did regarding Brown. If you ignore the outcome of his shots and instead look at his decision process, he was just as bad as always. Drifting on shots by not setting his feet, falling in love with the bounce and taking long twos instead of working the ball through the offense, bad decisions all around for Brown. He made shots tonight, so it masked the underlying problem. Brown is fine if he limits himself to getting out on the break, cutting to the rim, and rebounding, but he can’t shoot from distance (especially off the dribble) and is a horrible passer. I don’t think he has the basketball IQ to know his limits. I was very surprised Redd got the DNP-CD in favor of Brown’s minutes.

    Great game for Hill in particular and Nash as well. The rest of the team was along for the ride – no glaring problems, but nothing great either. I did think Telfair looked better tonight than in awhile. Maybe the practices this week helped him.

  • 8 Electromikey // Mar 2, 2012 at 12:23 am

    I’d like to think that part of Brown’s poor shot selection thought process comes from backing up Kobe Bryant, aka “Hits Anything From Anywhere No Matter What.” Having that kind of shot-selection influence without the years and years of training that Kobe has forced himself to have can’t have been good for him.

  • 9 PennyAnd1 // Mar 2, 2012 at 12:42 am

    @Grover

    The difference is Brown was actually moving without the ball and was actually given plays to an offense. I liked how they set him up for a jump shot rather than him looking for a shot of his own. Trust me, playing alongside with Hill did make Brown more efficient, and I hope a m right. We’ll see with the nect game tomorrow.

    @Electromikey

    I always believed that his bad shot selection was due to observing Kobe. The problem Shannon forgot to absorb is the fact that Kobe moved well without the ball, and it wasn’t all about jump shots but also driving towards the lane.

    Usually Players get better in the 2nd half of the season, especially when it comes to players like Channing Frye & Shannon Brown. And it’s always the 2nd half where Nash decides to shoot more and Hill steps it up a notch. Hopefully this is a start of something new. Now that all-star is behind us, the players have nothing else to worry but getting in that playoff.

  • 10 fan in chi-town // Mar 2, 2012 at 2:18 am

    A nice, solid win against a decent opponent. I thought the Suns came out pretty flat to start buit obviously finished well. The Timberwolves blew out the Clippers the night before. If we can beat the Clippers tomorrow…..we might be on to something

  • 11 steve // Mar 2, 2012 at 7:35 am

    I hear what you’re saying, Penny and shawn, but I hear what shazam is saying louder. Love is sick, and the rest of the T-Wolves still were on the the third game of a back to back to back (plus, even if he didn’t play, Love traveled, right? Traveling is often the most tiring part, or at least a big contributor to tiredness). It was still a good win. Like I said, a win is a win. I just don’t think it was a GREAT win.

    I think this is the last chance the Suns have to get back on track for the season. 7 of 8 at home. If we can come out of that stretch with 6 or 7 wins, we would be at 2 games below .500 or .500, respectively. I think it’s doable, albeit not very likely.

  • 12 Morgan McCoy // Mar 2, 2012 at 9:05 am

    I was at the game, and it was great to see Nash and Rubio play against each other. Rubio did look tired towards the end of the game especially when Nash started pushing the tempo. I thought it was good win. We started off flat, but we hustled and banged to get the win. The suns played just like they did against the warriors game. They played with focus and energy, and it showed.

    Shannon Brown made shots, but his IQ is terrible. He took too many quick shots and held on to the ball way to long, At one point Hill gets a offensive rebound kicks it out to Brown on wing, and he just hot dogs it for a miss shot. Missed opportunity!!! He had no business doing that. He had nothing and should have passed it to Telfair and reset the offense.

    Overall I liked the effort. The second unit is looking better, and are playing with energy. If the Suns play like this they could make a run.

  • 13 Scott // Mar 2, 2012 at 9:10 am

    @steve -

    If you’re looking to take negative views of the game (and I’m not saying you shouldn’t), you could also point out that the Suns played Gortat, Frye, Morris, and Lopez against just Love and Pekovic … in addition to the fact the Wolves were playing their 3rd game in 3 nights, Love was still recovering from flu-like symptoms, and Pekovic is only a 2nd year 2nd round player who didn’t get many minutes last year.

    On the other hand, Pekovic and Love have PER ratings that are a little higher than Nash and Gortat, the PER leaders on the Suns. And the Wolves’ coaching staff evidently thought Love and Pekovic were going a great job in the game, because they didn’t bring in reserve bigs Anthony Randolph, Brad Miller, or Darko Milicic, despite the fact that Randolph, for example, has a PER higher than any Sun not named Nash or Gortat.

    That said … the Suns won the game. While the Wolves have been a bottom feeder for the last few years, this year their record is better than that of the Suns, and with last night’s loss, the Wolves have dropped to 2 games out of the playoffs. The Suns need more of these types of win.

    If the Suns are serious about getting into the playoffs, they need to consistently beat the other teams that are striving for a spot, and that includes the Wolves. If the Suns had avoided losses to Golden State and New Orleans (other non-playoff teams), they’d be awfully close to that 8th berth already.

    BTW, on the topic of needing rest, despite the shortened season and the 3rd game in 3 nights, the Wolves played a shortened rotation with Ridnour playing nearly 43 minutes, Love playing 40 minutes, and Pekovic playing 37 minutes. It sounds to me like they’re using D’Antoni’s method of getting the most from their players by constantly creating the sense that their back is up against the wall and they need to dig deep to win.

  • 14 Tony // Mar 2, 2012 at 10:29 am

    Amazing, now I’ve seen it all, Steve with a reasonable opinion! LOL!

    I hate to do it, but I agree with Steve in that let’s not get over-excited about this win. The Timberwolves were on the 3rd of a back to back to back and Love had the flu and wasn’t even expected to play. What I noticed most was that the Timberwolves just got tired in the 2nd half and I think that had more to do with anything for the Suns win. Plus the Suns hadn’t played in eight days, so they were plenty rested.

    With all that said, it was still a huge win for the Suns because they backed up all the practice time with player coach meetings and showed us all that it does make a difference, at least for one game. Nash was great and once again he got credited for turnovers that were Gortat’s fault for not catching easy passes. The guy needs to do something about his hands, he drops too many passes.
    Shannon Brown also had his best game in a very long time. It wasn’t just his scoring that helped but that he consistently made important shots, something I never see Dudley do, with the one time exception.

    Just when I was seriously annoyed with Lopez, he also came up big in the 2nd half. His second half defense and rebounding really helped the Suns. If only he could stay that focused, for some reason he tends to play better angry, probably because he’s concentrating more.

    All in all, it was a huge win for the Suns, hopefully they can go for two in a row tonight against the CLipps.

  • 15 Scott // Mar 2, 2012 at 10:50 am

    @Tony -

    I still think a major problem for Lopez is that he doesn’t feel included. Quite possibly he played better in this game because of the team meeting, in which the reserve players asked to be trusted more (i.e., included).

    My impression has been that last year and this year, Gentry has washed his hands of the second unit from the start. As noted by Telfair in a recent interview with Coro, the 2nd unit doesn’t even have a go-to base play. Just now – halfway into the season – Telfair is asking Morris and Lopez to screen for him first, instead of heading to the post.

    That smacks to me of a PG being handed the reins on his unit, but being tentative about what to do because he’s used to having the coach organize things, but that’s not happening.

    Gentry’s plan for the 2nd unit has been, apparently, to score quickly or struggle in the half court. Or at least that’s what I picked up from what Gentry said in the article, and it pretty closely matches what we’ve seen.

    Unfortunately, Telfair’s keeping his position as “teacher’s pet” by being a yes man. His conclusion – in agreement with Gentry – is that half-court play didn’t work in the first part of the season, and it won’t work in the 2nd part. They’ll only be successful if they can score quickly. Which is nice if they’ve shown they can score quickly, but they haven’t, which is why they end up bogged down in the half-court so much.

    This leads me to believe that unless there’s a personnel change at PG, or Gentry makes a 2nd unit that can play in the half-court, the 2nd unit will be struggling all the way through the season. :(

  • 16 Grover // Mar 2, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    I think the cause of the second unit’s performance is something much more basic than Gentry’s treatment. They just aren’t good, this year or last year. Very difficult to polish a turd. I can’t think of one player who would be an obvious rotation player for a good playoff team. Morris this year maybe, and he’d be desirable anyway based on pure potential. Dragic last year, maybe. If I were pointing the finger at Gentry for anything it would be Dragic’s lack of performance last year, though hard to tell without knowing the behind the scenes stories whether that was induced by disillusionment (controllable by Gentry) or excessive partying by Dragic.

    As for Telfair, his job as a PG is to be a leader on the floor, but he tends to get passive and bounce the ball with no purpose in mind. This isn’t college and coaches don’t call every play from the sideline. His job is to direct people where he wants them and make something happen. He just doesn’t have the mind for it, which is exactly why he’s bounced from team to team and could only get a low paying one year contract with a bad team this year. Hard for me to conclude based on Telfair’s performance that Gentry doesn’t manage the second unit.

  • 17 steve // Mar 2, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    Just got a chance to listen to a few minutes of Gambo talking Suns on my lunch break. He was throwing out the idea of Howard to Phoenix. I know it isn’t going to happen, but it made me so excited just to think about it.

    Think about it, Dwight. Imagine what a LEGEND you would be if you finally brought home a championship banner to the best sports franchise to never win it all! He could play one year here and have his number retired and his name in the Ring of Honor if he brought a championship with him.

  • 18 Grover // Mar 2, 2012 at 1:47 pm

    This has been a source of frustration for me for a long time. Why aren’t the Suns ever included in the rumor mill for big name free agents? If it’s just an east coast bias / we forgot about Phoenix thing where the press doesn’t talk about us, I’m fine. If we truly aren’t considered a good option by the players and our management isn’t involved in the behind the scenes stuff, I’m worried. I don’t really care whether our name makes the press clippings – I want to know we’re in the consideration set for the players.

  • 19 Michael Schwartz // Mar 2, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    @Steve I was kind of wondering the same thing when we started to hear how much Dwight wanted to play with Nash. Well, Mr. Howard, there’s a VERY easy way to make that happen next summer. I don’t think there’s a chance of it happening either, but so long as Dwight really wants to play with Two Time I think the topic should at least be broached.

  • 20 Scott // Mar 2, 2012 at 2:48 pm

    I think Howard isn’t really thinking of Phoenix because most people assume Nash won’t be playing at any sort of high level for more than 2 years. According to the media, he’s already been slipping for years, nevermind the stats.

    Also, Phoenix is rarely on the FA radar, as reported by sports journalists, because the journalists prefer to talk about the fortunes of big market teams, or teams where stars currently reside, because the aim of all journalism is to sell ads. So expect there to be trade talk related to LA, NYC, Chicago, Orlando, and Miami … but not so much about other places. Furthermore, none of the big name writers has their home in Phoenix.

    Most sports journalism is creme-filled sponge cake anyway.

    Best to just wait and see what actually happens, and not worry about the level of hoopla in the press.

  • 21 Scott // Mar 2, 2012 at 3:29 pm

    @Grover -

    You blame the 2nd unit’s level of talent, but I blame Gentry for putting together a 2nd unit that is made up of non-complimentary players and players who don’t know where they are supposed to be.

    Last year, Gentry gave Dragic an unworkable group of players: all the newbies and castoffs. Dragic would typically get either get 4 players who need to score around the basket (so all defenders had to do was sag around the paint), or he’d get a single 3 pt shooter (so on defense one guy would guard the 3 pt shooter and the rest would sag in the paint). Dragic would try to drive and dish, but with everybody standing in the paint he could rarely get very far, and when he did drive through, the only person in position for a shot was the 3 pt shooter, and he was being guarded by someone waiting to pick off the obvious pass.

    That’s why we often saw Dragic bring the ball up, scowl (because his guys weren’t in position to score), then he’d try to drive in, get stopped, and then be forced to create something for himself. If he was able to get a pass off, the other player usually passed it back and he’d have to reset. This happened over and over.

    What Dragic needed and never got were two or three 3 pt shooters. With 2 perimeter players, two short range players, and himself (able to score inside and out), the floor is spread and Dragic can play very well, as he demonstrated when he had two or more of Barbosa, Dudley, or Frye, and as he has demonstrated while playing for Houston.

    In one game, Gentry briefly put Nash in with the same group Dragic had, and even Nash couldn’t get anywhere with it. Gentry had to quickly switch players out.

    Furthermore, neither Dowdell nor Brooks could get any more success with the 2nd unit last year than Dragic did.

    It’s the same sort of thing this year.

    Gentry has new guys and questionable scorers paired up with Telfair or Price.

    You can’t pass the ball to Brown unless he’s got the open shot, because due to his poor court vision and decision making, he either won’t pass the ball or he’ll turn it over.

    Childress doesn’t score.

    Lopez has to either run the pick and roll or be very close to the basket. You can’t throw it to him when he’s outside the paint, because he isn’t a back-to-the-basket player. Yes, he can hit the jumper, but not a contested one. (Before you scowl, remember Gortat has similar limitations and can still be used effectively.)

    Warrick scores on the pick and roll or pick and pop, but if the PG doesn’t find a way to get him the ball when he’s clear, he’s stuck. He’ll try to get around or shoot over, but he’s not a coldblooded shooter, a good ball handler, or a back-’em-on-down type player.

    Morris can play, but he IS a rookie, and he may not always know where he’s supposed to be or what he’s supposed to do. His best game was probably against Denver, when there was no Nash, because he pretty much just ad libbed his offensive moves.

    Redd has played with the 2nd unit, but mainly because he has been playing his way into shape, not so much because he was hitting his shots and a scoring asset.

    What Telfair could use, as I’ve been saying since before the season started, was two Suns vets who know the system and who can spread the floor: Dudley and Frye. Put pretty much any other Suns in there you want, and that 2nd unit should work much better than it does currently.

    As for who Dudley and Frye would displace, Morris and Warrick can play with the starters, and Nash can make good use of either Brown or Redd at SG.

    The problem, so far as I can see it, is Gentry’s unwillingness to play Dudley and Frye together, consistently, with the 2nd unit.

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