Minnesota Timberwolves 127, Phoenix Suns 124 — Disappearing defense

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tL698YBeY9s]

PHOENIX — For five consecutive games in US Airways Center, the Phoenix Suns looked like the 1985-86 Boston Celtics.

As the Western Conference hierarchy continued to take form Phoenix worked its way into the playoff picture and won games by way of crisp rotations, hard closeouts, solid interior defense, and relentless rebounding.

Over the course of their first five home contests following the All-Star break — all wins — the Suns allowed 89.2 points per game while holding opponents to 40.9 percent shooting from the field and 28.2 percent from three.

During that stretch they out-rebounded opponents 240 to 205, yielding an average differential of 7.0 caroms per game.

To put those numbers in perspective, Phoenix’s defensive field goal percentage, defensive 3-point field goal percentage, and rebounding differentials during those five games would all currently lead the NBA.

On Monday evening in US Airways Center, however, that Suns defense disappeared. Kevin Love and the Minnesota Timberwolves had their way with the Suns as they shot 56.2 percent from the field and made 14-of-22 triples en route to a 127-124 victory.

“We did a poor job defensively to say the least,” said Suns guard Jared Dudley, who led the Suns with 28 points and nine rebounds on 10-of-15 shooting. “We did a bad job of rebounding, pick and roll coverage we weren’t crisp at all and they made you pay.”

Kevin Love went for 30 points and five 3-pointers, Nikola Pekovic scored 24 points on 11-for-17 shooting and the Minnesota bench scored 52 points — 40 in the first half — to snap the Suns’ five-game home winning streak.

Despite the poor defense the Suns were able to hang around thanks to Dudley’s big night, 25 points, 10 assists and no turnovers from Steve Nash, and 18 points on 7-for-11 shooting from Channing Frye. Phoenix shot 51.7 percent from the field, 9-for-21 from the land of plenty, turned the ball over only seven times, got to the line 23 times and scored a season-high 124 points.

Phoenix even held a 120-119 lead with 2:20 remaining. But thanks to a Luke Ridnour runner and clutch free throws the Timberwolves surged ahead to lead 125-122. Dudley missed a wide open 3-pointer out of a timeout with 17 seconds left, Marcin Gortat misfired on two crucial free throws and the Wolves held off the Suns in crunch time.

“We played our best offensive game, if not one of our best offensive games this year and had chances, myself the three to tie it,” Dudley said. “We just couldn’t get it done.”

Added Nash: “They just made more plays than we did in the end.”

While the Suns didn’t come up with the big plays down the stretch, ultimately it was Phoenix’s non-existent defense that led to defeat. Gortat and the Suns’ front line allowed Pekovic to score 15 points on 7-for-9 shooting in the first quarter, setting the tone for what would be a dominant performance by the Minnesota frontcourt.

“Pekovic really kind of took control of the game early,” said Suns coach Alvin Gentry.

The Timberwolves’ big man dominated Gortat early and often, which led the Polish Hammer, who scored only eight points and grabbed four rebounds in 19 minutes while battling foul trouble, to admit, “I just wasn’t ready to play.”

Pekovic kickstarted Minnesota and the bench took it from there as the combination of Michael Beasley (15), Wayne Ellington (12), and Derrick Williams (12) combined to score 39 points in the first half to give the Wolves a 63-56 halftime lead.

Love, on the other hand, registered only seven points and four rebounds in the first half. But when the third quarter rolled around, the NBA’s top power forward caught fire. He scored 10 points in the third quarter and 13 in the fourth as he spread out the Suns defense and gave them no chance to recover.

“They have the best power forward in the league. I mean Kevin Love is just a tremendous player and we can’t let him do all of these things on the floor,” Gortat said. “We have to make adjustments when he starts hitting threes and starts scoring and we didn’t do that. That is one of the reasons why we lost the game.”

While Love shot 5-for-9 from distance, Ellington, Beasley and Williams also combined to shoot 8-for-10 from the land of plenty and the once-stellar Suns defense had no answers.

“It’s been a while since we’ve had a team shoot 56 percent. I don’t even know if it’s happened this year. We can’t do that,” Gentry said. “I just thought altogether we just weren’t quite there as far as rotations. We were half a step late or we missed a rotation altogether and these guys are very good offensively.”

With the loss the Suns move to 19-22 on the season and missed a golden opportunity to move into a tie with Portland for 10th place in the Western Conference. Phoenix would have also been only one game behind eighth-place Houston in the loss column and percentage points behind Minnesota.

Instead, the Phoenix defense couldn’t sustain its play and the Suns find themselves in a must-win situation against 10th place Utah on Wednesday in US Airways Center.

“They played well enough to beat us today and we have to go back to the drawing board, come back on Wednesday and beat Utah,” said Dudley, who added that his 3-point attempt was the best look he had all game.

And 1

  • The Suns’ bench held up its end of the bargain on Monday, scoring 35 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. Although it took him 13 shots, Shannon Brown scored 11 points, grabbed five boards and dished out three assists. Markieff Morris also grabbed five rebounds in 20 minutes while Robin Lopez scored 10 points and hauled in three rebounds in 24 minutes. The most impressive of all was Sebastian Telfair, who scored 10 points in the fourth quarter, including a four-point play followed by a steal in the backcourt for a layup.
  • The Suns lost for only the second time all season when Dudley leads the team in scoring. The team is now 6-2 in such situations. Monday was Dudley’s fifth 20-point game of the season and his sixth career scoring effort of 25 points or more.

Tags: Defense Jared Dudley Kevin Love

  • PennyAnd1

    well wtf Gortat! If you ain’t ready to play then don’t show up at the game! Your mental breakdown cost us the game, and your free throws or lack of made FTs at crunch is kicking our a$$! And it aint just one game too.

  • Serek

    Did anyone even play defense in this game? Everybody and their dog scored in double digits, shooting over 50% from the field (notably except Brown and Morris). End result: 130 points each team, and that’s in regulation.

    As for Gortat’s slump, it just shows how important his game is to the team. He got in foul trouble early and that put him off balance. But don’t put Pekovic’s explosion all on him – Lopez didn’t do any better (scoring or rebounding wise).

    However Lopez did convert his FTs. If I were Marcin, I would spend the next two days shooting free throws with my pants set on fire, because that was just pathetic.

  • JR

    @PennyAnd1 lol, calm your tits, with Dudley hes the most consistent suns player right now, he had just a bad day like everyone on that team had many times

  • Jz

    The team is shooting horrible from the free throw line compared to previous seasons. I agree with Serek and Penny about Gortat. Dude should not be trying to imitate Dwight at the free throw line. I hate how the Suns always have to cut games really close, because it always seems that the opposing team gets on a shooting streak and have chances to win in the last few minutes of the game. If Steve had Howard he would probably be averaging close to 20 assists per game in this era of basketball. Please Suns, don’t go on a losing streak to before the trade deadline passes.

  • PennyAnd1

    @JR

    Can’t help it..like I said it’s not just one game that I saw the brick from Gortat during crunch time that would’ve help the team win, if I had to take a guess I think it totals up to atleast 10 games now that I’ve seen these. So my tits are on fire when I see it again.

    I also think the Suns needs to get rid of Brown if he continues to shoot bad shots.

  • Zak

    Frankly I think the Suns have come close to wearing Gortat out this season. He’s played mega minutes all season long. Anyone who has ever actually played the game knows that your play gets sloppy when you’re exhausted. You’re a step slow, you foul more and even your free throws suffer because your arms just start feeling too heavy. Blame Gentry for not playing Lopez more earlier in the season instead of blaming Gortat.

  • Scott

    @Zak -

    I suspect Gortat didn’t realize how tired he was, and when Gentry asked, he probably denied being tired.

    Sort of like how when Grant Hill originally broke his foot, he continued playing on it.

    As for Gortat, he may not shoot a high percentage on his free throws, but he can nail that 3. I think he’s ready to spread the floor as a PF. :)

  • Grover

    I’m willing to bet (but not willing to do the research) that Gortat has not been used any more heavily than most good players, especially ones that are only 28. Don’t cut him slack for being exhausted. He just blew it, and having heard him in interviews, I bet he’d say the same thing. I do believe a bunch of people on this board have tended to over-rate him, but even as a critic I love his attitude. He just seems to lack that killer instinct and nasty attitude that great players can bring when they need it. He seems like a nice guy, and in the nBA that gets you the citizenship award more often than MVP or all star appearances.

    Very disappointed last night with Frye. He shot better, but was really weak with the ball and made some dumb errors. He either just flat out doesn’t have it and peaked a couple years ago or his shooting slump has killed his confidence to the point he’s makin stupid mistakes.

    Frustrating game. At least I got my free tacos.

  • PennyAnd1

    @Grover

    I was waiting to hear the excuse Gortat had about his no-show in this game, what frustrated me was his answer. He just wasn’t ready???! Are you serious? You’re fighting for playoffs! YOU CAN’T SAY YOU ARE NOT READY!! The guy needs to take this sport more seriously, he’s a professional he should act like it. But then maybe it’s in our mind that Gortat can do better…maybe, this is his limit. One thing is for sure, Gortat is no superstar. But I love him as a center. The Suns just needs to couple him with a superstar PF next season, and he’ll do lots of damage with pressure off his back.

  • Scott

    Trades are starting to happen … it’s said that GS has traded Monta Ellis to Milwaukee for Bogut and Jackson.

  • PennyAnd1

    @Scott

    I can’t believe Suns did not pursue either Steph Jackson or Monta Ellis. Suns need a scorer still.

  • Tony

    While rumors of trades to make teams better are heating up, where are the Suns Three Stooges in even attempting to improve this team now? It is just so frustrating to see other GMs trying to make improve their ballclubs but yet our Suns FO sits idly by claiming they won’t make a move that disrupts this off-season’s cap space. Let me ask a simple question, why? Why are they pretending as if this off-season they have a good chance of landing a franchise player or even someone close to that level? Any objective person with even a minimal degree of intelligence knows the best free agent the Suns may potentially sign this off-season is Nash.

    Maybe I’m missing something, but since it’s extremely likely they will be way under the cap next season, is there some kind of CBA rule that would penalize Sarver if he improved the team now? Even if Sarver had to go into the luxury tax to pick somebody up, since it would only be for about a month or two of basketball, wouldn’t he only have to pay into the luxury tax for one or two months since at the end of the season, they will be way under the cap? Scott, you have any idea how this works?

  • Grover

    I always hate it when it sounds like I’m defending the Suns management, but why should the Suns trade away assets today when they can keep those assets and sign some of the same players during the summer as free agents? That’s the logic anyway. If you notice, only two teams have done anything at least so far and 28 others have chosen to do like the Suns and wait to acquire at least some players without having to give up something they want.

    Come July or August if nothing good has happened, then by all means fire away. If Nash truly is the best free agent they bring in by the end of the free agent season, then clearly Suns management is as bad as you’re saying.

  • Tony

    @Grover,

    the Suns really don’t have a plethora of trade assets to use in a trade, so I understand the difficulty in making deals with such a lack of talent on the team.

    With that being said, the Suns will have a ton of cap space by this off-season and thus, unless the CBA prohibits it, the Suns should take advantage of being so far under the cap next season so as to try and make a deal with some team looking to shed salary.

    Furthermore, although only two teams have made any deals so far, there are a ton of rumors going around involving other teams but none of which concern the Suns. What bothers me most, is the perception that The Three Stooges aren’t doing anything to try and make a deal and won’t make one unless it fits in perfectly with their grand scheme of not spending money to attain star players in the near future.

    As far as the best free agents this off-season, the three best are really Howard, D-Will, and Nash. Howard and Williams have shown zero interest in signing with the Suns, so that leaves Nash. What other free agents are out there who can turn this franchise around next season? There are some decent to pretty good players in Batum, Felton, and even Dragic, but neither of those guys are franchise players or come close to one. All the best restricted free agents, such as Westbrook, Love, and Gallinari, have all signed extensions so they’re out of the picture too.

  • shazam

    nothing but blind luck will turn this franchise around next year…nothing is in place but mediocre..if the “3 stooges” all received brand new shiny brains they still couldnt make up for their down syndrome era

  • Scott

    ESPN reports D’Antoni has resigned from the Knicks.

    Some people complain about how Phoenix is run. But the NY team is run worse.

    A big difference is that Knicks owner Dolan is a guy who will spend any amount of money on his team and he still manages to screw it up on an annual basis.

    Meanwhile, Sarver is wrongly seen as a tightwad (he spends, folks), and his main sin is being semi-successful with a team full of nice guys.

    Anyway, now that D’Antoni is gone and probably the last person of intelligence has left the organization, can we trade them Price for Lin? :)

  • steve

    “I always hate it when it sounds like I’m defending the Suns management”

    You and me both. I find it’s best to try an avoid the use of the “S” word around here, and any reference to said “S” or his minions. Others like to ignore that, though. It’s pretty much an impossible topic to avoid, and neither side of the fence is fun to be on.

    Anyway, I tire of FA and trade talks very quickly. It’s worse than trying to look through a crystal ball really, and it’s so easy to be a cynic of the outcome. For instance, my guess is that the Suns will not land one of the top 2 potential free agents in the off-season. Just based on the numbers alone, there’s somewhere around a 95% chance I’m going to be right. It’s an insanely easy prediction to make. Being a cynic takes nothing but a mouth (or fingers). On the other side of the coin, being a homer takes nothing but a mouth as well. We have room for D-Will and Howard if we can move a couple of unfavorable contracts in the process of obtaining those players…

    Fact is, none of us have ANY idea what is going to happen with the Suns for the remainder of this season or next off-season. That’s part of the BEAUTY of being a fan. If you’re going to be an actual fan, then you really have no other choice but to roll with whatever your team does, and take the hits as they come. So, conjecture is all fine and dandy, but I really hate it when people act like they’re onto something when they sit in either the cynic’s chair or the optimist’s chair when talking about this stuff (but especially the cynics, because that’s the easiest road to take).

  • Grover

    You’re going to ruin this board if you keep making logical posts, you know…

  • Zak

    @Scott – I think that the chances that Lin leaves NY now are much higher. The Knicks were flying high with Lin running D’Antoni’s system… until Melo came back to the team. If Woodson (who’s been named interim coach) alters the offense to run more through Melo then the Knicks should wallow in mediocrity for the rest of the season and a LOT of NY players not named “Carmelo” will be unhappy and looking for greener pastures. Gentry’s system would work great for Lin’s talents so it might be possible.

  • Scott

    @Zak -

    I bet NY is flooded with calls right now from GMs offering all kinds of crazy deals. A change in coaches can easily mean a change in roster.

    I hope PHX is making its own crazy offers to NY, but just for young players.

  • Zak

    Reports on ESPN are that Howard has said that he will NOT op out of his contract with Orlando to become a free agent at the end of the season. IF that’s true then D-Will probably won’t resign with NJ and will become a FA at the end of the season. If the news on Howard is true then NJ will be trying to deal D-Will like crazy before the trade deadline. Someone on ESPN came up with the idea that NJ should just try to trade D-Will to NY for Melo. D-Will would work much better in NY and NJ would have their star player on a long-term contract to build around. It probably won’t happen but the would make Lin expendable in NY…

    But of course that won’t happen. Dolan is notorious for never admitting to making a mistake and trading Melo away for anyone, would amount to that.

  • Zak

    Forget my last post. Now Howard says he will NOT surrender his op-out clause. Expect him to be traded before the deadline. I think Orlando has run out of patience and will take the best deal they can get for him. Probably to NJ since the are afraid that Howard might decide to go to Dallas if they wait until the end of the season and he’s a FA to make a bid for him.

    I wonder if the Suns are going to make any moves before the deadline. But the trade with Orlando last year came completely out of the blue so maybe some trade this year will blindside us all too. Hopefully one that will help!

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