PHOENIX – Interim head coach Lindsey Hunter finished his four-minute postgame press conference and walked off the podium with a slight grin on his face.
“I’ll finally be able to sleep a little easier,” Hunter said. “At least tonight I’ll have some good game film to watch.”
While good might be a slight exaggeration to describe the Suns’ 84-83 overtime victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves Tuesday night, Hunter’s squad found a way to win a game despite its best effort to give the contest away.
It wasn’t pretty or terribly thrilling or a great display of progress, but following an underwhelming three-game losing streak, Hunter admitted he’ll take the outcome because in the NBA, a win is a win is a win.
After the Suns and Timberwolves combined for 31 points and 10 turnovers over the first 12 minutes of play, Phoenix’s reserves took over in the second quarter. Jermaine O’Neal and Wesley Johnson ignited an 8-0 run to start the second period and with a little over a minute to play in the first half the Suns had built an 18-point lead.
Although initially it looked like yet another stroke of luck for Phoenix, Andrei Kirilenko’s calf strain injury (suffered in the first quarter) turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Rick Adelman and Co.
Adelman began the second half with a three-guard lineup of Ricky Rubio, J.J. Barea and Luke Ridnour, and while the trio finished the night 12-of-40 from the field, Phoenix struggled to adjust to Minnesota’s speed.
The Timberwolves also went almost exclusively to a 2-3 zone in the third quarter, and the Suns shot right in to the schematic change. Phoenix couldn’t buy a bucket (shooting 25 percent for the period) and finished with a season-low 11 points. Minnesota didn’t exactly scorch the nets either, but the Suns’ 18-point lead was whittled down to seven heading into the fourth quarter.
“In the third quarter they went to a zone, and we had some trouble with that,” Goran Dragic said of the team’s early second half slide. “We were just missing shots, and they were scoring and I think we lost a little bit of our confidence.”
Johnson and Markieff Morris, the team’s two most confident scorers all night, hit back-to-back three-point shots to extend Phoenix’s lead back to 13 early in the fourth quarter, but the wheels slowly fell off from there for the Suns.
Rubio assisted on six of Minnesota’s next seven baskets, the Suns missed nine of their next 10 shots (with their only make coming on an emphatic Johnson put-back dunk) and J.J. Barea capped a 16-3 run with a corner three to knot the game up at 71 with 4:25 remaining.
While Morris almost single-handedly cost the Suns a victory down the stretch — he committed two turnovers and a sixth fou,l which sent Dante Cunningham to the line for a go-ahead free throw with 90 seconds left — Phoenix was bailed out by a beautiful Dragic pass that set up Gortat’s game-tying two-foot bunny with 13.6 seconds to go in regulation.
The first 48 minutes couldn’t decide a victor between two teams going nowhere fast, and Tuesday night’s extra session did little to put either in a positive light.
Phoenix held the Timberwolves to 2-of-8 shooting in overtime, Johnson finished off an impressive performance (14 points, nine rebounds and two steals) against his former team with two gorgeous assists, and the Suns managed to squeak out a one-point win and their first at home since a 92-86 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers back on Jan. 30.
“I just felt good being out there playing,” Johnson said. “It just so happened to be them that I played against, but I was just happy getting in minutes and being out there.”
Johnson said his time on the pine early in the season reminded him of the year he was forced to sit out in college after transferring from Iowa State to Syracuse. While his start in Phoenix may have been delayed, his play is likely to increase in the coming weeks as he’s certainly found a fan in his head coach.
“He was great,” Hunter said of Johnson’s performance against Minnesota. “He was great on both ends of the floor. I think it’s a little different for him because he had to guard a point guard tonight. That is a different feel for him. He did well. He used his legs, had some key steals and he rebounded the ball really well.
“I hope this can continue to catapult him into growing as a player and just really see how good he can be. He has all the tools by far. It’s just good for him to contribute the way he did tonight.”
- Former Arizona star Derrick Williams led the Timberwolves in scoring with 21 points but was 3-of-10 from the charity stripe. For the Suns, Jermaine O’Neal notched a double-double (10 points and 13 rebounds) for the third time in his last six games.
- Shannon Brown sat out his fifth straight game due to a coach’s decision, and Lindsey Hunter discussed the situation during his pre-game media session. “The beginning of the season, you know, everyone saw pretty much what you could do,” said Hunter. “Now, other guys are getting opportunities, and now we want to see what they have there. I think that’s fair. It might not feel fair at times, but it’s pretty fair.”
- The Suns had hoped the acquisition of Marcus Morris at the trade deadline would rejuvenate his older brother Markieff’s game. Through three contests it’s done just that. The former No. 13 overall pick is averaging 11.3 points and 6.0 rebounds per game since his brother’s arrival.
- Phoenix is now 2-2 in overtime games season. The Suns’ last OT win came on November 23 against the New Orleans Hornets.