The Las Vegas Summer League started the tournament portion of its competition on Wednesday, kicking off with the #9 seed Phoenix Suns against our #24 seed Timberwolves. Despite being 0-3 in its prior Summer League action, the Pups came out on Wednesday and produced a solid victory to move on in the winner’s bracket.
The Wolves opened up with Zach LaVine, Markel Starks, Shabazz Muhammad, Gorgui Dieng, and Kyrylo Fesenko in the starting lineup. A little “twin tower” action up front for the Wolves and perhaps a preview of things to come in the 2014/15 season. Dieng, Fesenko and LaVine all started off strong, while Shabazz Muhammad got off to a 0-6 start from the field, continuing to move his shooting percentages in the wrong direction in Vegas. At the end of the 1st quarter, the Suns held a 19-14 advantage.
Timberwolves Owner, Glen Taylor, joined the NBA TV broadcast booth and provided some insight on several of the key talking points surrounding the franchise this offseason:
- On Kevin Love:“We haven’t really said anything about Kevin … There’s a lot of speculation that he wants to go to another team … We’re going to look at anything that makes sense that would make our team better. We’re not going to just move a superb player like that without getting equal or more value back … I think he’ll find out that Minnesota has the same thing he wants, to win, and a chance to get into the playoffs.”
- On Flip Saunders’ dual role: “I think it’s the best system to have … one coaching and another one trying to look at the future … The goal is that you (Flip) would go back to being the President of Operations.”
- Taylor also touched on LaVine and Ricky Rubio, but nothing that you would be surprised by, e.g. LaVine’s potential and upside and Rubio’s ability to rebuild his confidence moving forward given the leg injury and his shooting troubles.
All of this happened in the booth while the Wolves playing on the floor turned things around, taking a 26-21 lead and forcing the Suns to (… wait for it …) burn a timeout. Markel Starks went down with an injury with a few minutes to play in the quarter, but returned in the 3rd quarter. The Timberwolves continued to play well and outscored the Suns 23-14 in the 2nd quarter to take a 37-33 lead into halftime.
Minnesota opened up the 3rd quarter with the same starting five, excluding Starks, who was replaced by Matt Janning. Unfortunately for the Suns, they couldn’t clone TJ Warren in the quarter, as he lit the Timberwolves up for 16 points in the 3rd, finishing the game with 26 points on 11-18 shooting. Warren received very little help the rest of the way, as the Wolves were able to maintain their 4 point advantage at the end of the 3rd, 57-53.
The Suns kept the game interesting in the 4th quarter by closing a double digit lead to just 4 points with two minutes left in the game. However, we had a Vince Cellini explosion on the play call – “Zach to the rack!!” – as Zach LaVine drove to the basket and threw down a tomahawk-esque dunk to seal the fate for both teams. LaVine added in another drive and dish to Fesenko to put the final nail in the coffin.
Final score from Las Vegas, Timberwolves 86, Suns 77. With the victory, the Wolves will play again tomorrow (Thursday, 7/17) against the Sacramento Kings. If the Wolves were to continue to advance in the tournament, they would play again on Saturday, then Sunday, and then again on Monday for the Summer League Championship.
Overall, it was a nice team effort by the Pups today. Here are a few thoughts on several of the key players in today’s action:
Dieng would get the nod as player of the game due to his 13 points and 2014 Summer League high 19 rebounds. He showed an array of offensive moves and consistent effort on the defensive end and getting up and down the floor.
LaVine had his best performance of the tournament so far, with 20 points on 7-16 shooting. He showed playmaking ability at the PG position and a smooth jumper. After time expired in the game, Zach showed off his dunking abilities with another highlight reel move. We’re not through Summer League yet, but you can expect LaVine in this coming season’s dunk competition.
If the Wolves make a roster move or two and have a few open positions, Fesenko is staking his claim on one of those roster spots. He finished today’s game with 17 points and 8 rebounds, while playing solid defense in the paint.
Muhammad struggled again from the field, shooting 4-12 from the floor for 16 points. However, he did get to the FT line and made 8 of 9 from the stripe, while also collecting 9 rebounds. Muhammad must become more efficient from the floor in order to build a consistent role this coming season.