Kevin Love and the Minnesota Timberwolves (along with foul trouble to Goran Dragic) gave the Phoenix Suns a bad loss at home.
The Minnesota Timberwolves came to Phoenix beaten and battered. Missing Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic and currently sitting at 10th in the Western Conference, the Wolves are a team the playoff-hopeful Suns were expected to defeat at home.
Things didn't go according to plan.
The first quarter saw a lot of offense and very little defense, as both teams lit each other up at a high pace. Fortunately for the Suns, the defense improved after the first period and was able to keep the Wolves in check...until the fourth. Adding to their fourth quarter woes was foul trouble and minor injury concern to Goran Dragic, leading to a sputtering offense at the end of the game.
What do you get when you add up bad defense, foul trouble to Dragic, a dominating performance from Kevin Love, and a career night from a struggling rookie on the opposing team? A blown 10 point lead and a bad loss at home to a sub-.500 team: 110-101.
First Quarter: A Whole Lotta Love
The main draw for this game was of course none other than
future Phoenix Suns power forward Minnesota's superstar, Kevin Love. After being held to just 15 points the last time these teams met, he came out of the gates strong by scoring 14 points in the first quarter and grabbing 5 rebounds, giving his team a 34-28 lead after one. His early performance no doubt left many Suns fans drooling over dreams of Love in a Phoenix jersey.
Second Quarter: Hoping for a Good Win
After giving up 34 points to Minnesota in the first quarter, the Suns' defense tightened up a bit in the second, allowing just 21. Archie Goodwin, who was the first sub off the bench for Phoenix in the first after Gerald Green picked up two quick fouls, put on a great performance tonight. His "drive to the rim at all costs" mentality paid off well for him and for Phoenix, resulting in 10 first half points for Archie, who basically swagged all over the court in the first half:
Third Quarter: Red Hot Green
The Suns came out of halftime well and continued to play some strong defense. They held Kevin Love in check throughout the quarter and only surrendered 20 points. They also managed to score 24 in the quarter behind some stellar third-quarter play from Gerald Green. However, Phoenix didn't put as much distance between the Wolves and the as they would have liked to, and went into the fourth with a 6 point lead.
Fourth Quarter: A Dragon-less Nightmare
The Suns stretched their lead to 10 points at one point, but the Timberwolves hung around and made a push midway through the fourth quarter. Goran Dragic, who had been having a relatively quiet (but efficient) game, rolled his right ankle on a fastbreak dive at that point--the same ankle that has given him trouble a couple times this season.
The Suns and Wolves went back and fourth while Dragic received treatment in the locker room. After putting some tape on his ankle, The Dragon returned to the game and valiantly attempted to put the team on his back in a tight game. He hit two consecutive stepback jumpshots. Unfortunately, he missed his very next shot and was overly aggressive in fighting for the rebound, going over the back of Kevin Love. After a tough night of foul trouble--thanks to some quality defense and flopping from Ricky Rubio--Dragic earned his sixth and final foul and left the game.
At that point, the Suns led 95-92. They were outscored 18-6 the rest of the game, as they simply could not get their offense running without Dragic. Game over. Timberwolves win, 110-101.
Players of the Game
- Love Actually: After having one of his worst games of the season when these teams last met, Kevin Love dominated the Suns defense tonight. He finished with 33 points, 13 rebounds and 9 assists.
- Shabazz "I'm another role player who has a career game against the Suns" Muhammad: Shabazz Muhammad has been struggling in his rookie season, just barely managing to crack Minnesota's rotation recently due to their injury problems. Tonight, he joined the list of random role players who enjoy career nights against the Suns, finishing with 20 points and 6 rebounds in 24 minutes off the bench.
- Corey Brewer, Wide Receiver: Brewer has been Love's favorite target all year long, and tonight the duo took advantage of the Suns defense by teaming up for several easy scores. Brewer finished with 18 points on 7-9 shooting.
- Gerald Green Machine: Green continued his stellar play of late by tallying 19 points and 6 rebounds tonight. Even though he struggled from three (1-5), he still managed to have an efficient scoring night, going 7-15 overall. Where would this team be without his scoring?
- Chief Kieff: Markieff Morris has also been playing very well recently and continued it tonight. He was aggressive all night, and even though he missed 11 shots (9-20 from the field), he finished with 24 points by getting to the line 8 times.
- DIsh Smith: Due to Goran Dragic's foul trouble, Ish Smith played almost 29 minutes and filled in admirably. He finished with 7 points, dIshed (see what I did there?) out 7 assists and also registered 4 steals. Unfortunately, he had a subpar fourth quarter, when the team was badly in need of some offense.
- PJ "Bad Mother" Tucker's rebounding: PJ Tucker had a phenomenal rebounding game, corralling 16 total rebounds (8 offensive). He helped the Suns to a 50-38 edge on the boards. He was even matched up with Kevin Love at a couple points in the game when Phoenix ran a small lineup. However, Tucker's offensive game was abysmal tonight, as he shot just 2-11 from the field and displayed some questionable offensive decision-making. Simply put, Tucker really needs to curb the tunnel vision he so often gets that lead him to taking ill-advised contested drives.
Goran Dragic finished with 16 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists in just 25 minutes, as he struggled with foul trouble all night. Ricky Rubio managed to draw several fouls on Dragic (a couple of them were contraversial), and it hurt the Suns at the end of the game. The end of this game revealed what crunch-time Phoenix Suns basketball looks like without Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, so let's hope the former's ankle is fine and the latter will return sooner rather than later.
I hate to overstate the importance of one game, but this was an extremely bad loss for the Suns. This was a game (against a lottery-bound team missing two of their top three scorers) Phoenix needed to win in a tough Western Conference, and absolutely should have. The fact that they let a 10 point second half lead slip just makes it that much worse. The Suns are currently 8th in the West and have the Grizzlies hot on their tails. They simply can't afford to drop games like this one at this stage in the season.
Fortunately, there is a Bright Side. Goran Dragic won't foul out of every game. More importantly, Eric Bledsoe is set to return in as little as a week, providing Dragic with some much needed help. The Suns will need him for the final push to the playoffs.
They can start tomorrow by beating the Jazz in what some might now call a "must-win" game.