The Minnesota Timberwolves (18-18) entered Thursday’s game against the Phoenix Suns (14-20) playing their third road game in three nights. Phoenix, on the other hand, was playing its first game in eight days. The Pups welcomed Kevin Love back to the lineup for Thursday’s game after K-Love missed Wednesday’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers with a rib injury and the flu. Pups Coach Rick Adelman described the team as flat, inpatient and lacking energy in Wednesday’s game. This game contrasted the youthful Pups against the much older Suns, including starters Steve Nash (38 years old) and Grant Hill (39 years old). The game also featured the first matchup of Pups rookie point guard Ricky Rubio against the Suns’ perennial All Star point guard Steve Nash, one of Rubio’s favorite players.
The game also marked the return of Pups forward Derrick Williams to the U.S. Airways Center. D-Will was the PAC 10 Freshman of the Year in 2010 at the University of Arizona, and he was the PAC 10 Player of the Year in 2011. His college coach, Sean Miller, was in attendance at Thursday’s game.
The Wolves showed a high level of energy and patience in the first quarter to lead 23-22. The offense had a completely different feel with K-Love in the lineup. K-Love was guarded by Markieff Morris, who quickly learned that he was not in Kansas anymore. K-Love scored eight points on 4 of 6 shooting in the first quarter with two rebounds. Unfortunately, he would hit only 4 of his next 19 shots the rest of the game. Ricky Rubio, who had made only 4 of 23 field goals in the previous three games, scored seven points on 3 of 3 shooting in the first quarter with two assists. However, Rubio did not score another field goal or assist the rest of the game. Phoenix was led by Marcin Gortat with eight points and two rebounds, while Steve Nash added six points with four assists.
Luke Ridnour, Martell Webster and D-Will led the Pups in the second quarter. Ricky Rubio sat on the bench for much of the second quarter with two fouls. Ridnour led the team with 9 points on 3 of 4 shooting and four assists. The Wolves led by ten points (44-34) before settling for a 51-46 halftime lead. The Wolves committed only six turnovers in the first half and shot 50% from the field. Minnesota had balanced scoring at the half, led by K-Love with 10 points, Nikola Pekovic with 10 points, Ridnour with 9 points, Rubio with 7 points and Webster with 6 points. Phoenix trailed even while shooting 54% from the field, led by Nash with 8 points and 7 assists and Gortat with 12 points. The Pups were 0 for 7 on threes.
The second half of the game was owned by the Suns. The Suns had won only 2 of 19 games this season when they were behind at halftime. The Wolves were looking for yet another second-half comeback and their tenth road win of the year. Neither the energy nor the shooting was there for the Pups in the second half. Phoenix outscored the Pups 58-44 in the second half on the way to a 104- 95 win. Grant Hill had a strong second half to finish with 20 points on 8 of 12 shooting. The Suns gained their first lead of the game since midway through the first quarter with 1:45 left in the quarter during a 13-4 run. Meanwhile, the Wolves made only 1 of their last 12 field goal attempts to end the quarter. The Pups were outrebounded 31 to 20 through three quarters. The Pups were outscored 31-23 in the third quarter, but trailed only 77-74 after three. Steve Nash had 10 points and 10 assists through three quarters. Phoenix shot 57% through three quarters.
The energy which the Pups had shown at the beginning of the game was gone at the end of the game. The Wolves shot only 39% on field goals for the game, and only 1 of 13 on three pointers. The Wolves’ bench provided only 18 total points in 71 minutes. D-Will’s return to the U.S. Airways Center was not what he had hoped for. D-Will scored only 6 points on 2 of 10 shooting, including 0 for 2 on threes and 2 of 6 free throws. Michael Beasley was even less effective, scoring only 3 points on 1 of 5 shooting in 19 minutes. D-Will and B-Easy had led the Pups’ remarkable fourth quarter comeback win against the Clippers only two nights earlier with 27 points each off the bench. Each of the Suns’ starters scored in double figures, and Shannon Brown contributed 12 points off the bench. The Wolves as a team had only 14 assists, three fewer assists than Steve Nash of the Suns. Phoenix had 27 assists, led by Nash’s 17 assists and 13 points. Ricky Rubio ended the game with 13 points, but he had only two assists, and he did not score a field goal or assist after the first quarter. K-Love led the Wolves with 23 points and 10 rebounds, but he made only 8 of 25 shots. This was a tired and unenergetic Pups team at the end of a difficult back-to-back-to-back road game stretch. This was a game which the Pups were controlling during the first half, but the lead was easily given away in the second half on soft defense and on good shooting by Phoenix. It is curious that the Pups played only eight players when the team was as visibly tired as it was.
After a much-needed day off, the Wolves return to action on Saturday night against the Portland Trailblazers at the Rose Garden. The Pups are battling the Blazers for one of the last playoff spots in the NBA’s Western Conference, so the outcome of this game could be important at the end of the season.