Minnesota Timberwolves 111, Phoenix Suns 107 — More of the same


The Phoenix Suns continue to invent new ways to lose thanks to poor late-game execution.

In a shootout defined by dominant frontcourt play from Minnesota and Luis Scola’s best game as a Sun, Phoenix just could not get a stop down the stretch before a couple of poor offensive decisions ultimately doomed them in a 111-107 loss to the Timberwolves.

“Another case of the other team making the plays toward the end of the game,” Jared Dudley told reporters.

The Suns actually led 102-99 with 3:47 left after a JD basket, and that’s when a Phoenix defense that struggled all game failed to come up with the crucial stop or two that could have meant victory. The Wolves made their next four shots plus two free throws to take their own three-point lead with 55 ticks left.

The Suns finally forced a miss (or I should say Dante Cunningham bricked an open jumper) and Phoenix had the ball down three with 12 seconds left in a helter skelter situation with three Wolves behind the ball.

Dragic made what would ordinarily be the right basketball play by threading a bounce pass to a red hot and wide open Scola chugging down the court. At this point three Wolves ran at him to defend the shot and he ended up getting fouled with Minnesota giving him no chance to make the basket to score a potential game-tying three-point play.

This second guess would be very difficult to consider in real time with the right basketball play in front of them, but I feel like the Suns absolutely had to take a three in this situation, whether Dragic took one off the dribble with Scola running down to secure rebounding position or whether Scola kicked it right back out to an open Dragic for the tie.

Scola missed the first free throw and that would have been the game had Alexey Shved not missed one of his attempts as well to keep the lead at three, and that’s where the inbounding issues began.

First Scola couldn’t find anybody so after nearing five seconds on the inbounds clock he rifled a pass to Dudley in the corner that the long arms of Andrei Kirilenko knocked away in a play close enough to cause the refs to go to the replay monitors. Then JD tried his luck as the inbounder and lofted a pass to Shannon Brown at the top of the three-point line, but Cunningham was in the vicinity defending Dragic and he stole the ball and sealed the Phoenix loss by hitting one of two free throws.

“We have to stop punishing ourselves,” Suns head coach Alvin Gentry told reporters. “We have to stop being our own worst enemy. We’ve got to get ourselves in a position where teams have to make plays against us to win the game and not us making plays against ourselves. It’s discouraging from the standpoint of if you look at our win-loss record, it’s encouraging that we just keep battling and putting ourselves in the position to do that, but we don’t have anything tangible to show for it. At the end of the day it’s discouraging.”

Like Gentry said, the positives are the Suns stayed with a good Minnesota team missing Ricky Rubio on the second game of a back-to-back on the road.

The negatives are that the Wolves shot better than 50 percent and got huge games from Kevin Love (23 points, 18 rebounds), Nikola Pekovic (28 points, 11 rebounds) and Kirilenko (20 points on 10-for-13 shooting).

Dragic did a nice job bouncing back from his scary fall on Wednesday by going for 16 points and 12 assists, but Scola was the man for the Suns on this night.

After that Knicks game, Dudley spoke about how since the Suns don’t really have a go-to guy they must feed the hot hand every night, and with six players scoring in double figures it could really be any one of them on any given evening.

Minnesota could not stop Scola as an array of crafty moves around the tin and a hot mid-range night led him to score 33 points on 16-for-26 shooting to go with 10 boards, two assists and two blocks in 43 minutes that included some backup center duty with Jermaine O’Neal out with back spasms.

Scola makes crafty moves on the interior and hits jumpers every night, but he did so tonight with a different confidence, and the Suns kept feeding him as he took a season-high amount of shots that’s more than twice his season average.

The Suns now have gotten a 30-point scorer twice in the last three games after not getting one all season to this point. And really it seems that’s what they need just to stay close these days.

Phoenix has now lost five in a row with an almost certain sixth coming Monday in Oklahoma City following the four-game winning streak that followed the seven-game losing streak. The Suns have also lost 13 of 15 away from downtown Phoenix and are tied with Sacramento as the second-worst team in the West.

The Suns are making things interesting and playing close games, yet they all too seldom break through. Watching the final minutes I was wondering how the Suns would find a way to lose this one, and no, I did not think it would be because they went for two down three and then threw away an inbounds pass.

“We battle so hard when you’re down and you’re fighting on the road, you get the lead and you are up by two or three with three minutes to go and you can’t close it out,” Dudley said. “That is what happens when teams are losing, when teams are winning they find a way to get those wins.”