Game Analysis

Suns 108, Wolves 106: A Statement Loss

The Wolves lost a 108-106 heartbreaker to the Devin Booker-less Phoenix Suns on Saturday night at Target Center. The Wolves loss to the 10-21 Suns is another data point in a larger pattern of the Wolves accumulating “come from ahead” losses. The Wolves didn’t trail until the fourth quarter and built double-figure leads in the 2nd and 3rd quarters. Still, the Wolves managed to lose a close game to a depleted Suns team that was on a five-game skid. It was a statement loss, of sorts, in that it was another of the type that has plagued the team this year. While the Wolves’ new “aurora-don’t-call-them-lime” green “statement jerseys” were a hit, another statement loss was not.

Before we get started, let’s take a look at the team the Suns put on the floor on Saturday night.

The first thing that jumps out at you is that the Suns lineup is not good. Especially without the injured Devin Booker, Phoenix’s leading scorer. In the frontcourt, the Suns ran The Aging Tyson Chandler, The Prospect Marquese Chriss, and The Grinder TJ Warren. The Suns’ starting backcourt consisted of Former 2nd-round pick Tyler Ulis at the point and Rookie of the Year for Best Hair candidate Josh Jackson. Booker Backup Troy Daniels lurked nearby, on the Suns bench, along with fellow subs Alex Len (!) and DRAGAN BENDER. (!!)

Josh Jackson

The Suns are, if anything, the consummate work in progress. In October, early in the season, the team abruptly fired head coach Earl Watson and named his assistant, Canadian basketball folk hero Jay Triano, as interim head coach. In the past few years, the Suns have also traded two talented backcourt players, Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. The Suns draft picks have been questionable at best. Chriss, the second-year player from the University of Washington and 8th overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, is averaging just 6 & 4.5 as the Suns’ starting PF this season. Phoenix drafted Chriss’ backup, DRAGAN BENDER! (Editor’s Note: Sign a petition to get Dragan B’s name legally changed to [always all caps] DRAGAN BENDER!), with the 4th overall pick in the same 2016 draft in which they selected Chriss. Bender is averaging 5.4/3.3 in 31 minutes per game so far this season. Tyson Chandler’s backup at center, Alex Len, was also a high draft pick who has underwhelmed as a pro.

The Suns know they have a star in Devin Booker, but their second-best player is probably TJ Warren, which means not only that the Suns are going nowhere as currently constructed, but also that Phoenix’s front office again used a high draft pick on a player, Jackson, who plays the same position as one of the team’s most reliable veterans in Warren. Consequently, the vision for Jackson’s current and future role on the team is unclear, despite Jackson’s obvious talent (aside from his broke-ass J). What is clear is that the environment in Phoenix, in which Jackson is learning to play NBA basketball, is inferior in nearly all ways imaginable to to the one Jayson Tatum, who at 3rd overall was drafted one spot ahead of Jackson, is enjoying on Brad Stevens’ Boston Celtics team.

In a nutshell, Phoenix sucks. They’re going nowhere fast.  They turned the ball over 23 times on Saturday. And they still beat the Wolves. And now, for the season, Phoenix is 1-2 against the Wolves. What gives?

The story of the game is how it ended. It was a tight game at the end. Recent Suns free-agent acquisition Isaiah Canaan was the show stopper: with 6.1 seconds left,  the shot clock winding down, and the Wolves up by one, Jeff Teague fouled Canaan on a three-point attempt. (Editor’s Note: Is unclear why Teague was so block-happy against the Suns–he finished with three, including one massive block–but was called for an ill-advised foul on a jump shooter to lose the game. I thought we were done with the point guard rim-protector scheme after Thibs traded Kris Dunn last summer.) Canaan, who finished the night with 15 points, made all three throws to give Phoenix a 108-106 lead to seal the deal, despite two near misses in the game’s final moments by the Timberwolves’ Jimmy Butler.

The Wolves again played down to their opponents despite leading almost the entire game and putting together double-digit leads of 15 in the 2nd quarter and 13 in the 3rd quarter. This graph from nba.com probably illustrates the game dynamic best: the Wolves were winning almost the entire game, enjoyed several sizable leads, but still managed to lose in the 4th quarter. There was controversy with the call against Teague that put Canaan at the line for the three throws that ultimately decided the outcome, but Thibs’ argument–that the refs had really called a 24-second violation–was easily debunked.

 

 

In the 4th, Tyus Jones led the Wolves with 8 points, including two three-pointers about midway through the stanza. KAT contributed 7 points in the quarter, but it wasn’t enough. For the Suns, DRAGAN BENDER was draining threes en route to a career-high 17 points. BENDER plied the Suns with three balls all night, shooting a robust 5-8 from downtown. Alex Len had 12 points and 19 boards. That’s unacceptable. And #WinningTime hero Isaiah Canaan hung 15/5/7 on the night. Meanwhile, Troy Daniels, aka “Assassin Anon,” scored 17 off the bench on 5-8 shooting and 4-6 from distance. The Wolves’ starters were positive in the (extremely unreliable narrator voice) game plus-minus stats, with KAT notching a team-best +13. But the Suns’ bench vastly outplayed their Wolves counterparts and contributed by making runs while their rotations were on the court.

Finally, Jimmy Butler appears to have tweaked his back during the game. Jimmy being Jimmy, he re-entered the game and attempted to win it with a sprinkle of his late-game pixie-dust heroics. Butler was moving gingerly, but managed to fire up two near-misses in the closing seconds that could’ve easily netted the Wolves a #win.

Sigh.

Having lost another game they should’ve won, the Wolves are now 17-13. They’re still 4th in the West. Their .567 winning percentage implies that they’re still on pace for more than 45 wins. As frustrating as this loss was, it is time to look forward, as not much immediately relevant news came from this game. The Wolves we knew came out to play. They could’ve won. They didn’t. This will happen occasionally all season. Ups and downs, you know that.

Minnesota has a chance to close their current five-game homestand with a win on Monday against Portland. The Blazers are nipping at the Wolves’ heels for the 4th seed in the West and the division lead (!), coming into the game just a half-game behind the Wolves in the standings. Tip is at 7 CST.

Till then.

 

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4 thoughts on “Suns 108, Wolves 106: A Statement Loss

  1. Normally, I pin these loses on Thibs for wearing out his starters or his stagnant isolation offense, but this one goes firmly on the players. The combination of poor shooting at home by 3/5ths of our starters plus the bench, while letting three point shooters get off on the other end continues to be a trend for our losses. Teams that in other cities can’t make a high percentage of shots come into Target Center and fill it up. We had a chance to run them out in the first half if we capitalize on half their turnovers, but we missed some point blank shots, letting them hang around and thinking they can steal one.

    I also see so many stupid mistakes by players that should know better. Teague getting caught fouling a min salary player for three free throws is ridiculous. Wiggins and KAT bailing out shooters by reaching instead of just walling up. Crawford throwing the ball into a defender. And worst of all, Coming off three point shooters to help defend twos is absolutely terrible basketball. If the Suns can kill you this way, think what Portland, GState and Houston will do. So what if they score a two, they once again don’t beat you if you play them off the three point line and just defend the two without fouling. Well there were a couple terrible calls by Mauer and his crew where we didn’t foul and got called anyway, but that will happen when you don’t take care of business on poor teams early. Bud Grant use to say, if you let them, the refs will make calls that will kill you.

    No team is so poor at shooting on their own floor as our Wolves. It is understandable when you are in someone else’s arena to have bad nights shooting or run into a team that can’t miss, but it seems Target Center is a balm for other teams shooting woes and our guys struggle. After beating Sactown, I thought we had turned a corner, but we regressed last night. A loss against these bums means we have to find a contender to beat to offset it. Hopefully, Jimmy will not miss games and we can find a way to beat Portland.

  2. It’s losses like this that show that the system is broken. The blame goes to everyone. Thibs will always shoulder some of the blame because his systems are ineffective. The players made terrible decisions down the stretch.

    We are 17-13 but our wins are covering up the systematic issues we have. No ball movement offense, bad team defense everywhere. We will soon be exposed when the schedule gets tougher and this team will take a huge downturn.

    Thibs needs to play the bench more to develop those players. That’s why I want less minutes for the starters more than giving them a break. He’s killing this team by playing his rotations like it’s the playoffs every day.

    It’s hard to watch this team play so far below the potential and talent we have on a consistent basis.

  3. Wolves have had the 2nd easiest schedule in the league so far this year. They’re 7-8 over their last 15 games, 12 of which were vs. teams that are .500 or worse. They’re struggling through an absolute DREAM slate of bad teams- just think what our record is going to look like once we have to play some real teams! The current 46/47-win pace is not going to hold up, I suspect this team will fight for .500 if no one important gets hurt, and be much, much worse if Jimmy/KAT/etc. have to miss any time.

  4. Ugg

    Mostly no need to get into the [minutes issue, shhhhhh] because it was an obvious continuation tonight. I will mention that it is unwise and unnecessary to play Butler 36 minutes and a ton down the stretch when he was having an obvious back issue. We can hope it’s not anything serious and won’t be an issue next game. But why play with fire? The answer some will certainly state is ‘because with Butler down the stretch we still lost, imagine without!’ To that I would counter that we went to an obviously hobbled player way too much down the stretch for baskets and that might have cost us the game. Wiggins, Towns, Teague and even Gibson (not to mention Crawford) are extremely capable of taking over that role for a game.

    The uniforms… I love them. I’m bored all the time. I was not bored with electrophied Aurora Green (R) on a basketball court. Although I kept thinking of road construction guys with the safety lime vests with white reflector bars. But that’s more of a design flaw that is inherent, though less noticeable, in our other uniforms. Hope the greys have their share of green. Also… calling them statement jerseys is dangerous. The statement tonight was we can’t beat Phoenix without Booker. At home.

    I hear a lot of people saying ‘this is the best roster since the Garnett Sprewell and Cassell year’ (what was that 2003?). I guess that is true. But there is an implication in such statements, that this team is anything like that roster, and is in the same universe of quality. It isn’t. Butler is a good player who is coming in and giving us some of what we need as a team. But he’s the Garnett of this roster, and he’s no Garnett. While both carry D as their calling card and are closers on O, Butler is nowhere near the centerpiece on D that KG was. Part of this isn’t Jimmy’s fault… KG was springy and 7’1″. However in that team role, Jimmy is a poor version. Obviously, Teague is no Cassell. Wiggins is no anybody, so I guess he’s no Spree. We also rely on 2 young players who have yet to really learn D and the true effort and intensity level NBA success takes. With KAT it feels like a work in progress, with Wiggins it feels like we’ve invested a ton and just threw a lot of money at him and that intensity will never happen. What is happening now isn’t nearly as exciting or promising, frankly, though the 2003 thing fell apart fast and hard, and maybe we can work on this for a while…

    It’s funny how Wiggins started out the season looking really comfortable. I was worried he’d have a hard time playing next to Butler (because he’s used to being the #1 wing and general redundancy). But at first it seemed to help him, free him of the responsibility thrust on him he didn’t want. At the same time, Butler was not quick to play like himself. He’s not the prettiest player ever, but he played U G L Y to start, was cold on offense and uncharacteristically mistake prone on D. Now Butler is playing like we expected, and Wiggins is struggling. Neither seem to be enough. We kind of need both guys fitting into their roles well to work as a team.

    The continued disappointing play of KAT and Wiggins, marred by lack of intensity, lack of awareness, and marked by inconsistency is a problem. They seem to be lost in a slow motion alternate time scale as far as development goes. On all these criticisms I call out Wiggins more. I think Wiggins improved his D slightly.. but much less than you’d expect given how much less he’s asked to shoulder. KAT was slow in coming, but he has been improving his D now and as the primary big, more is still expected. The main difference is KAT is trying to put consistent effort fourth at it while Wiggins spends most of his time in float mode. KAT seems like he might get the intensity and effort it takes to be great in the NBA SOMEDAY, whereas Wiggins is simply a hopeless case. It’s why I miss Lavine. For all his flaws, that dude is DRIVEN.

    Compiling these problems is our coaching and systems, which I’ve talked about enough for the time being, and sub par play by others. Crawford seems pissy about his minutes but he’s a mummy and plays no D. He was -17 in this one (that’s a problem). Teague is… I don’t know. It’s not just that he’s not exciting to watch, he’s just not a spark plug in anyway and you’d hope your PG would be. We don’t play pace right with him. And in this one he looked like a rookie, fouling a 3 point shooter at a critical moment.

    Been noticing Dunn is putting up numbers in Chicago. This is surprising because he was so bad here, but maybe it shouldn’t be. He has some skills. He has the keys in Chicago. This allows him to put up numbers, but what is behind them? A really bad record, for one… I have not actually seen him play and look forward to it.

    Enai makes a point that I’ve been pressing–that all this is happening while having a soft schedule. I guess it’s the 2nd easiest according to someone? This makes me fear the future a bit, as does the attrition aspect to so many of these problems (don’t look to Wiggins to suddenly stop floating and Thibs to suddenly stop being stubborn). One bright spot is that the West isn’t as good as it was expected to be so far. The top of the East is a bit better than expected, but it drops off so fast with teams like Milwaukee not filling in much quality. So we have some room to be flawed, so far.

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