Entering the NBA Summer League tournament as the ninth seed, the Phoenix Suns had the most favorable matchup of the teams that didn’t receive byes into the second round. But the Minnesota Timberwolves, who hadn’t won any of their first three games, busted the brackets, beating Phoenix 86-77 on Wednesday.
The Suns once again struggled to push the pace despite lacking in size, and they didn’t work well once they were in the halfcourt. Now, coach Mike Longabardi’s team will head to a final consolation game.
Again, again, T.J. Warren. The small forward scored 16 of the Suns’ 20 points in the third quarter as the offense stalled. He finished with 26 points by shooting 11-for-18 from the floor. Warren didn’t attempt a three-pointer but flashed his range from 15-18 feet. His scores occurred often off transition opportunities, where he continued to finish through contact. More impressively, he displayed turnaround jumpers and pull-ups, a sign he’s best scoring off the bounce and not necessarily in catch-and-shoot situations.
Miles Plumlee was the defensive anchor once again. He finished with 10 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks. While he offensive game is still a bit mechanical, his aggressiveness stood out. Plumlee went right at defenders as soon as he caught the ball, and his decisiveness paid off in the first half, when he shouldered into Minnesota big man Kyrylo Feseknko’s chest and bullied his way to the rim for a dunk. Fesenko, you know, is a big guy.
The Suns’ backcourt took a few steps back. Neither Archie Goodwin nor Tyler Ennis showed much urgency and the duo combined to go 0-for-10 from the floor. Goodwin did handle himself decently on defense against T-Wolves rookie and athletic freak Zach LaVine, but Ennis’ time on the former UCLA Bruins guard didn’t go all that well. Ennis had five early assists but in the second half appeared overwhelmed a bit. He forced some passes and also seemed to struggle to keep his head facing the frontcourt because of Minnesota’s defense. On both ends, it’s clear that adding strength to an immature frame will help Ennis attack with more confidence without getting bumped off where he wants to go. Defensively, it’s pretty clear why the Suns might view him as a Bakersfield Jam option. Goodwin and Ennis combined for five points, five turnovers and six assists.
Elias Harris scored 16 points, second-best for the Suns on the night, but he struggled on the glass against a large Minnesota frontline. It’s not necessarily his fault. The Timberwolves outrebounded the Suns 51-30 as power forward Gorgui Dieng ripped down 19 rebounds to help out small forward Shabazz Muhammad’s nine. Phoenix could have used such an opportunity to give Alex Len solid minutes against a rising star in Dieng, but instead it was the undersized Harris who had to deal with the Minnesota second-year pro.
Alec Brown only played eight minutes for the Suns on Wednesday, and it appears that one solid outing in the final game won’t be enough to push the Suns to sign him for this season. The contract agreement with forward Anthony Tolliver means Phoenix has found its stretch big, and combined with Marcus Morris behind Markieff, coach Jeff Hornacek will have plenty of options there.