Phoenix Suns 104, Minnesota Timberwolves 103 -- Gerald's big shot


Until Eric Bledsoe returns from his knee sprain, the Phoenix Suns seem destined to look as they have against Chicago on Tuesday and Minnesota on Wednesday. What they looked like was a talent-deficient squad that now has a full roll of scouting tape on the record. They also looked like a team scrapping desperately on the road and on the tail end of a back-to-back.

With big shots from Goran Dragic and Channing Frye, Phoenix hung close. With a little defensive pressure on tired legs, the Suns forced turnovers. And with a little luck for the ball to bounce the Suns’ way, Gerald Green took a dribble-handoff from Markieff Morris for a 20-foot baseline jumper with four seconds left for the lead.

One stop later, the Suns were off to the locker room with a gutsy 104-103 win against the Timberwolves, a team that very well could make a push to challenge Phoenix’s playoff eligibility.

Yet, it wasn’t easy. It didn’t matter that Phoenix held Minnesota to 32.6 percent in the first half. The Suns only led 53-47 because they only hit 37.5 percent of their own attempts.

Rick Adelman’s beefy frontline struggled against the Suns’ length for much of the game, but down the stretch the T-Wolves forced the Suns to match up. In doing so, Jeff Hornacek’s team lost the ability to play with five versatile offensive options with Miles Plumlee in to defend Nikola Pekovic.

Dragic led the offense with 26 points and nine assists, and it was his one-on-one battle with Ricky Rubio that was the difference late. Dragic clutched at his shorts, but as the game wore on he got more aggressive. He forced a turnover with four minutes to play that led to an And 1 opportunity, and after Dragic missed the free throw, Phoenix trailed 97-92.

When the Suns climbed within a point with less than a minute left, Dragic chased an attacking Rubio under two screens and forced him into a dump-off attempt that found itself in the hands of the Suns, who then had the ball with a possession’s worth left.

Phoenix lost the third quarter 30-19 but shot 57 percent in the fourth. Dragic scored 12 fourth-quarter points to offset a nine-point quarter from Pekovic that seemingly marked a loss for the Suns.

There were so many talking points, but here are three pivotal thoughts posed by Dave Dulberg prior to the game.

How much will Leandro Barbosa play if at all?

Barbosa took the spot Archie Goodwin previously owned since the Eric Bledsoe injury. He was the first sub off the bench. And that meant Goodwin didn’t see any time at all. The Blur played 13 minutes and got up six quick shots in his first-half stint. He finished with three points and three assists in his return to the Suns.

Will Marcus Morris wake up any time soon?

Offensively, yes. Defensively, not much. Morris scored 10 points in 24 minutes, but on his first defensive possession was slow to react and lost Kevin Martin running across the screen. In general, the play represented the frustration of watching the Morris twins. When one is on, the Suns have a decent bench. When both are on, the Suns are really, really good.

But there’s been a defensive dropoff with the bench unit in the last few weeks, and the Morris twins are at the heart of the issues. With Alex Len back in the fold – and looking even better than he did at the beginning of the year in how well he’s moving – it was Markieff who took a hit in the minutes department. He played 13 minutes until he was forced into action for the fouled out Miles Plumlee. In those 13 minutes, just one more than Len, Morris managed to launch 10 shots, making just three.

Then the other side — the good part — of the Morris twins showed up. Markieff locked in and made the big play at the end. He caught a bad pass from Dragic, who got hung up on a broken final play, and then was aware and calm enough to hand the ball to Green, who hit the fadeaway to give the Suns a 104-103 advantage.

Can the Suns neutralize half of the Timberwolves’ frontcourt?

Pekovic and Love combined to shoot an abysmal 3-for-20 in the first half, and Love finished with a hand-wave leading to a technical foul and then a frustrating personal on a textbook Dragic pumpfake. Frye and Plumlee’s verticality bothered the T-Wolves’ duo in the post.

Part of it might have been the Minnesota’s big men being forced to defend the Suns on the other end of the court. Hornacek’s crew repeatedly fed the Plumlee in the post, where the second-year center had reasonable success shooting over the top of Pekovic if he had deep enough position. Frye got hot with two early three-pointers as the T-Wolves lost him in transition, and he continued to fire darts once the defense began attempting to cover him.

Frye’s dribble pull-up game may never have been better.

To the T-Wolves’ credit, Pekovic continued to get touches and as the Suns refused to double-team. After an And 1 for Pekovic that drew a foul on Plumlee with less than five minutes to play, P.J. Tucker finally came down from across the court on the next T-Wolves post touch, helping a now-fronting Plumlee. But a cross-court pass found Corey Brewer for an open three, giving Minnesota a 97-88 lead that seemed to seal the deal — then the Suns closed with a 16-6 run.

Pekovic finished with 17 points on 6-of-16 shooting. Love did worse, going 4-for-20 for 15 points.

Meanwhile, Frye scored 22 and hit 5-of-10 three-pointers. Plumlee had nine points and nine rebounds in an effort that should be judged by Pekovic’s numbers rather than his own.

And to top it off, Phoenix actually had more second-chance points (17-12).

  • SHAZAM

    dang kevin those are great stats you posted and you were out first..not sure how you pulled that off..great article

  • Dave:f32

    Speed kills, and Barbosa still has it. Leandro looked mostly good , with a rough around the edges bad coming back to the NBA game after a rehab layoff. Give him some time and he will become an integral veteran contributor off the bench that this team desperately needs .

    Len will get his in time. Marcus Morris is a bit disappointing , as is Markieff sometimes. Gerald Green still didnt smile , even after he hit the game winner ! Does GG ever smile? PJ Tucker was solid , with a key rebound late. I dont think he is a Suns longterm answer at SF though. Ish Smith played ok . Great team win for this Suns squad on the road against a quality opponent!!!

    Cut: The Twins, Ish Smith, PJ Tucker, Christmas is over, Slava

    Needs: 2 banger-type PFs to provide lowpost scoring, rebounding and frontline defense; a quality SF who can defend, rebound , finish on the fastbreak, and provides scoring punch, a 6’6″ scoring, shooting and dunking on someone SG

  • http://valleyofthesuns.com hawki

    GERALD (my boy) GREEN !!!
    Nice vid Zim….can watch that all night
    Dragic > Rubio
    Butler….Colorado road trip in the works :)

  • Animan

    We don’t need to cut P.J, he is an exceptional defender and got national praise for being, relative to body size, the strongest player in the league. Happy to see Barbosa back, and I am gonna have to disagree with you, I did not like Len’s effort out there. He looks a bit too lanky and hopefully that goes away with some time. Even though Gerald Green is frustrating at times, that was a beautiful and intense comeback. Timberwolves are now 0-11 in games decided by four points or fewer.

  • vtsunrise

    Damn good tough effort. Random thoughts:

    Dragic is now a star. I don’t care if he’s not an all star. The guy is shining bright. Talent, hustle, hard work. He can dominate and carry the team when needed.

    PJ is one tough little strong Mother Tucker. I love his work ethic. Great defender. He may not be the offensive answer at SF but he gives this team so much. He may have one the game on that last play, defending Kevin martin.

    Markieff came to play. His game was a thing of beauty.

    Frye gave a great two-way effort. What an assignment, helping out on that beast Pekovic after Plumlee fouled out.

    LB is back and oh so cool to see. The guy has balls to just come in and act like he’s been there all along. No practices with the team? Pretty impressive debut. He’s got great quickness still. It’ll be cool to see what he does the rest opt the season. This is the right team for him, I think.

    Len looked decent. Give the guy time. Healing, practice, experience. I haven’t really seen him until now, and I see a more talented, slightly quicker and better coordinated version of RoLo. His presence on the team, getting BIG minutes in time, will create a very solid center duo with Plumlee. That will make a difference by next year, in a BIG way, I think.

    This team is still the little engine that could and will give a lot of teams fits and starts. Playing short-handed on no rest, they hung tough, stole one and deserved to. They don’t know the meaning of the word “quit.”

    Good job.

  • vtsunrise

    Oops – PJ may have WON the game with that last second defense. I won’t bother correcting my other typos.

  • Zack B.

    #ThatShotDoe??? Haha, I was unbelievably hyped. Amazing game. Len drives me nuts. I’m rooting for us to trade him while it’s early. Kevin Martin missing that layup after such a good game was great to see. https://www.facebook.com/hoopflix?bookmark_t=page check out my quick piece on the game and Green’s shot on this page I’ve been freelancing on. Like it as well, it’s great for NBA highlights, not just Suns. I’m the main Suns writer on the page, I go by the admin name of Sole. Please show support for a fellow Suns fan. Go Suns!

  • Zack B.
  • foreveris2long

    VT, You have typo credit so no problem. That was a character win. G. Green shoots with ice in his veins. That was a cold blooded game winning shot. Dragic played great. He does remind me of Harden and Ginobli. He, like Harden had a great Euro move tonight on the break.

    Len will absolutely come around. To be so young coming off double ankle surgery, he will add muscle and be a good player next year. However he will give us some quality minutes this season during the playoff drive. If we ever get a power forward to help Plumlee defensively in the low post, we will then be a special and dangerous team. While Frye is inconsistent he sure played well tonight against K. Love.

    Planet Orange will sleep good tonight.

  • Suns Fan in Portland

    Every championship team needs certain type of role players, and PJ is one of those guys. Just imagine him on a Spurs playoff team… there’s no reason or need to get rid of him unless we get a great deal with a pick or young prospect. Every playoff team needs a guy exactly like him: relentless defender that can hit the corner three… He doesn’t need to be an offensive all star, that’s not his job. I don’t know why people are ever down on him…

  • Dave:f32

    @VT -

    I couldn’t disagree with you more about that last shot. Kevin Martin just missed a wide-open shot, which was just short. Had he been just a little bit stronger with his shot, we might all be calling PJ Tucker a goat, and not the good kind (G.O.A.T)

    I can’t quite describe what it is, but i know its not there: something is missing with this team… With that special Suns team that made it all the way to the WCF, it felt like a rather complete team despite deficiencies in certain area. This team just feels like its deficient in so many areas that its only saving grace is to continually make its way by jacking it up from outside. Those familiar with the game can attest to that strategy being a negative while trying to go far into the playoffs.

    So, to all the Suns fans, what is your take on the needs of this team personnel-wise, for short-term (this year) and long-term, to solidify this team’s place among the Western Conference elite?

    Are this Suns team a legitimate contender before a trade?

  • Voqar

    That was a brutal to watch game but at least they pulled it off.

    Kind of a bummer for Goodwin to not get any PT – not gonna develop him much that way. LB will be more assertive on offense but he’s never been much of a defender.

    The officiating was horrendous and as much as Minnesota cried they got the bulk of the calls.

    NBA scheduling is as stupid as the draft lotto. 4 games in 5 nights (while at other times not having games for 3-5 days at a time) or 7 in 11 for golden state – that’s not how you field a high quality product. For high quality NBA hoops “they were tired due to a back to back” should not ever need to enter the equation.

  • Chad

    Okafor and a pick or two for Monroe and Charlie V’s expiring

  • vtsunrise

    One important impact of Len’s healthy presence is giving Plumlee freedom to foul or freedom to play on the edge aggressively. In a situation like last night, no one wants to foul out. But assuming Len improves over the next couple of years, the Suns having two big tough centers can only improve the quality of interior defense all around.

    @Dave:f32, I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree. I saw PJ altering Martin’s path to the hoop. His aggressive presence caused Martin to be off balance and throw up a desperate shot. It was anything but a smooth release. In a key moment, an argument could be made that he won the game. PJ also did a tremendous job helping out defensively around the basket time and again as the Suns ganged up on the big Wolves and pestered them. So many balls could have gone Minny’s way but they didn’t out of pure peskiness by the smaller Suns, especially Tucker. Also, how many of those layups and potential putbacks didn’t go in because of the tenacious Suns un-welcoming committee?

    He’s a lot like Dudley or Lou, leaving it all on the court and being tenacious and smart.

    This is an easy team to love.

  • Elviro (Italy)

    Wow!
    What this team is doing this season is amazing!
    I’m happy!
    it is also nice to see how they are growing some players (including Gerald Green … scary …. its performance compared to the label with which he had arrived ….)!
    While Quard the box score on an Italian site I had a atttimo of terror when I saw this name Barbosa and not to Bledsoe … I thought the worst … then I jumped on you and I read of ‘Bledsoe’s injury ….
    is a really nice dream this season!! …. I just hope we’re not playing to win in a season in which all others play to lose …..

  • Elviro (Italy)

    Wow!
    What this team is doing this season is amazing!
    I’m happy!
    it is also nice to see how they are growing some players (including Gerald Green … scary …. its performance compared to the label with which he had arrived ….)!
    As I looked at the box score on an Italian site I had a moment of terror when I saw this name Barbosa and not to Bledsoe … I thought the worst … then I jumped on you and I read of ‘Bledsoe’s injury ….
    is a really nice dream this season!! …. I just hope we’re not playing to win in a season in which all others play to lose …..

  • john

    Dragic should be an All-Star. I know he won’t get the vote (Steve Freaking Nash is getting more votes than Dragic), but he should be a coach’s selection. He’s the alpha on a solid team, his PER and WS48 numbers are both all-star worthy.

    It’s sad, but I think he’s going to get snubbed. Sucks for him, too, because I think he gets a hefty bonus if he makes the squad.

  • Solarion

    Odd game for me last night, at times they looked unbeatable, then at other times they looked lost.

    I loved seeing LB back out there, but I almost would rather see Goodwin get more time. Not a good sign when your coach would rather play someone that hasn’t practiced with the team over Goodwin.

    I did like what I saw from Len, and as people may or may not know I’m not real high on that pick still. But I feel like he makes better decisions with the ball then Plumlee does, and he is a much better passer. And why we are running the offense thru Plumlee as much as we are? The ball shouldn’t be in his hands for 40% of the shot clock, then when he gets double-teamed he usually commits a TO trying to pass out of it.

    Good win, a gutsy win, especially on a back-to-back night. They had every reason to have dead legs, and they didn’t. I liked Hornaceks substitute patterns too, I think that that helped keep everyone fresh.

  • Foreveris2long

    While I was furious at PJ for a really dumb backcourt foul in the 2nd half, he played a really good game. Knowing just a tiny bit Dave how a physically strong defender like PJ can cause you to shoot short because you are thinking about being hit, I do give a lot of credit to Tucker for Martin missing the shot. It looked like an easy shot but I think it was more difficult than it looked.

    With Frye doing whatever he wanted when Love guarded him, we got a glimpse of what a poor defensive player Love is.

    Voqar I said a couple of days ago while I had no problem bringing in Barbosa for 10 days, it was the Suns message to all they were serious about making the playoffs. I also commented that the Barbosa move would mean Goodwin will not receive quality minutes while Barbosa was on the squad. I guess it is playoffs over development now.

    Dave 32, just my opinion but this is definitely a playoff contender but in no way is it a championship contender. While I think there is no trade this season that could make us a championship contender because we are too young and inexperienced, I do think if somehow we got Monroe, we might be a championship contender next year depending on what he would have to give up for Monroe.

    Man it is great to be a Suns fan because we have direction, a really good coach and GM and a lot of character. Call me crazy but I still like keeping Ish Smith over Marshall.

  • Robert

    Fantastic effort and win. I loved seeing Leandro out there. He’s still very much a blur. Man that guy is the fastest player in the league, and MUCH better than Goodwin right now, who’s super talented, but clearly not ready for prime time, which nobody sees better than Hornacek, who played his position. I’d like to see them keep LB around for the rest of the season, as he never fails to make the game a little more exciting…

    IMO Len looked good the last two games. He’s clearly got a ways to go, but he’s really competing, not afraid to mix it up out there and definitely holding his own. He’s going to get better fast, and I love how all of the sudden Hornacek has thrown him right into the rotation.

    A loss would have been bad, and they basically salvaged this trip with this win.

  • Rengaw

    Len has shown glimpses of being a rim protector that the Suns really need when Plumlee is on the bench. He appears to have pretty good hands and a decent feel around the hoop.

    So far, I have been disappointed in his desire to engage in physical contact.

    Again I have to praise Plumlee for his tremendous effort at both ends of the court. I love tbis guy. Has anyone noticed his improvement on his freethrows? And he is gaining confidence in that short jump shot which will open up opportunities for his jump hook with both hands not to mention his dunks.

    The Sun’s guards miss so many opportunities to get the ball to Plumlee down low. Imagine how effective Plumlee would be if he had a Nash, Chris Paul, or Rondo setting him up.

    Rondo setting

  • BUTLER

    Colorado is so close Hawki, so close.

    Seeing Love play last night – not his best game by a long shot – nonetheless confirmed my suspicion that Love isn’t the type of playa who can take the SUNS to higher places. He can rack up the stats but he may not be a dominant playa.

    I’d rather have Len on the team, assuming he’ll be able to stay healthy.

  • EBJM

    The Suns need rebounding and in only his 2nd game back Len grabbed 5 in less than 12 minutes. Nice job.

    Tucker grabbed 10 and always gets the defensive assignment of the opossing teams best wing player. Again, nice job.

    McD is planning for the playoffs, Barbosa over Goodwin and Christmas.

    So I wonder what McD is planning for that last piece to get the Suns over the hump?

  • EBJM

    Forever, Marshall’s honeymoon in L.A. is over. He had another horrible shooting night but still got his dimes.

    That was a fun game to watch. Two of D’Antonio’s success stories going head to head, Linsanity versus Marshall.

    To the D-Mo inquiry, despite Parson and Asik sitting out D-Mo still only got 1o minutes burn against the Lakers.

  • EBJM

    From Pro Basketball Talk 1-6-2014:

    “The Sacramento Kings reportedly have been looking at Goran Dragic and according to Pro Basketball Talk, the Suns could be willing to trade their point guard this season after the way Bledsoe has played and with the money the guard is owned down the line. The Suns want to keep Bledsoe and that may come at the expense of Dragic, as the Sacramento Kings are reportedly interested after they already traded for Rudy Gay and Derrick Williams and it comes as he is having a great season, averaging nearly 20 points per game.”

  • Foreveris2long

    EBJM, I saw a little of the Lakers game, enough to see Marshall is exactly who I thought he was, a one dimensional player in that he is a good passer only . I could not believe the hype he received after a couple good games where defenders were giving him shots and every time went under the picks set for him. I was never fooled.

    Some were questioning if the Suns and Wizards made a mistake in letting him go. Someone I think yesterday was drawing an analogy to Jason Kidd. I saw one play last night where Marshall tried a layup and it was blocked by Lin, who was guarding Marshall. I continue to believe he is an emergency guard at best (third string) because he is a really bad defender who cannot shoot if opponents guard him.

    Regarding the Kings, I have no idea who the Suns would want from that roster as I do not think they have a good power forward. Maybe a 3 way deal.

  • chris13akane

    we are one PF away from competing in the playoffs
    we are not beating the heat with this line up! i know that! we need a star someone that can create his own shot when dragon and bledsoe is off! not carmelo oh lord please not carmelo! imagine kevin love throwing some outlet passes to gerald green!

  • Al

    Why trade Dragic when he is giving everything he’s got for Phoenix? Bledsoe is showing to be more injury prone in his first season as a full time starter. That is not a good sign. If Dragic wasn’t in a Suns uniform the team would be on a long losing streak and have a similar record to the Jazz or Bucks. Dragic has become the heart and soul of the team. He’s the spark. Why trade him? I’d rather they trade Bledsoe and get as much for him as possible. Bledsoe can only bully his way to the basket for so long. I don’t see McD trading Dragic after the way he’s treating the other players like guaranteeing Christmas.
    Last night Dragic kept the Suns in the game even when they were down by 9 in the middle of the 4th. Who saw Love’s reaction when the game ended? Dragic>Rubio. Love is not a happy with his teammates right now(Barea, Cunninham) Love was in a shooting slump just like Kobe was in the ’10 Finals, but his teammates didn’t bail him out. The Morris twins are not starter caliber in the NBA, but Love IS…

  • Lance

    AI
    exact Gogi is motor of the team. If he stops Suns stops in term of game.
    You never trade your best draging horse.
    Sure if you are smart enought.

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