Having lost their previous three games on their West coast road trip, the Minnesota Timberwolves came home on Saturday night to host the Phoenix Suns in their last matchup of the season with fomer Wolf Mike Beasley missing the game due to the birth of a new child. Congrats, Beas.
The Wolves faced off against their former fourth overall selection Wes Johnson who has become a starter for the dreadful Suns. While I will admit that the former Syracuse star has somewhat expanded his game since his days in a Timberwolves uniform, he is still a long ways away from being a productive player on a competitive NBA team as evidenced by his 10.31 Player Efficiency Rating.
Ricky Rubio looked much more comfortable against the soft defense of Goran Dragic than he did the previous night against the Utah Jazz. The Wolves immediately had an easier time gaining penetration in the half court and found openings in the short corner on back cuts from Derrick Williams and Andrei Kirilenko.
The Western Conference-worst Suns jumped out to an early 17-10 lead nearly midway through the first period. Neither team did a good job of capitalizing on the others mistakes and the first quarter came to a close with Phoenix leading 28-22.
Getting the start once again for the day-to-day Nikola Pekovic, Greg Stiemsma saw increased minutes against a weak Phoenix frontcourt. Stiemer had a much easier time matching up against Luis Scola and Hamed Haddadi after being torched for 40 points by Al Jefferson on Friday night in Utah.
After back-to-back threes from Derrick Williams and Alexey Shved, the Wolves cut the deficit to 34-29 as Phoenix led with 8:48 remaining in the first half. A Wes Johnson airball gave possession right back to the Pups.
The two teams traded turnovers throughout the second period and neither team was able to gain a serious edge over the other heading into halftime. Some late quarter scoring from Rubio and a plethora of turnovers from Phoenix brought the game to 53-50 as the Suns led heading into the locker room. Ricky led the Wolves with 13 points and 6 assists while Luis Scola recorded 12 points and 8 rebounds in the first half.
The Wolves grabbed the lead with 7:19 to go in the third as a D-Will layup put the Pups ahead 60-59. However, some hot shooting from Markieff Morris put the Suns right back ahead. A dazzling sequence involving a Rubio behind-the-back pass for a D-Will slam tied the game up again at 64 apiece.
The Wolves out-scored the Suns 14-2 in the paint in the third quarter and headed into the final 12 minutes leading 77-73. A JJ Barea three-pointer pushed the Timberwolves lead to 84-76 nearly two minutes into the final period.
Phoenix broadcaster Eddie Johnson put it well when he said, “This game has been a nightmare for how to run fast breaks” midway through the final quarter. To put it bluntly, this game was a battle over who could squander the least amount of opportunities and the Suns ultimately took the cake behind 27 total team turnovers.
The Pups held off the Suns in the final minutes to win by a score of 105-93. Minnesota improved to 30-50 on the season and a decent home record of 20-20. The Wolves have only two games remaining in their disappointing 2012-13 season and will face off at home against the Jazz on Monday night and will finish their season in San Antonio on Wednesday night.
Keys of the Game:
- Turnovers - With the worst record in the Western Conference and the third worst record in the NBA, the Suns committed an atrocious 27 turnovers with the Timberwolves still committing 18 themselves. Saturday night’s game was anything short of a marquee matchup as both teams are lottery bound this coming June.
- Points in the paint - Without Marcin Gortat patrolling the interior, the Wolves outscored the Suns 44-30 in the paint. It was not only Minnesota’s bigs getting it done near the rim, as the Pups’ guards also did a good job of getting to the hoop from the perimeter.
Three Stars of the Game:
- Ricky Rubio - Rubio broke out of his recent slump and finished with the monster stat line of 24 points (8-18 FG), 10 assists, 5 rebounds, 5 steals and 4 turnovers in 36 minutes. Facing the porous Phoenix defense, Rubio had his way gaining penetration while finding teammates on back cuts. Ricky’s legs may be tired, but he is not about to go into the offseason on a low note.
- Markieff Morris - The better Morris twin had a very productive night as he scored 20 points (8-11 FG, 3-4 3Pt) to pair with 9 rebounds and 3 assists in 38 minutes. Phoenix faces some major reshuffling heading into the offseason, but Morris has shown that will likely be apart of their future roster.
- JJ Barea - After scoring a season-high 23 points in Utah on Friday night, JJ had another strong outing against the Suns as he scored 16 points on an impressive 7-9 shooting from the field while turning the ball over 3 times.