Apparently last season's buzzer-beating shot to down the Wolves at Target Center -- also a nationally televised game on ESPN -- wasn't enough for Gerald Green.
For the second consecutive season, Green put his stamp on the game. He scored 15 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter to help the Suns secure their fourth straight victory, and eighth win in the last ten games, on Wednesday night. Phoenix ultimately scored 42 points in the final quarter, which was enough to overcome the seven-point deficit heading into the fourth.
"It was huge because we weren't playing very well, and we got down by 13 or 14, whatever it was, and then he got to the Gerald we all know and love, coming down and pulling up for threes," coach Jeff Hornacek said. "You just let him go sometimes, and that was huge to get us back in the game."
Even as Green, and the Suns as a whole, got whatever they pleased in the fourth quarter, the Wolves still had a chance to steal the game. Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas each split a pair of fair throws in the final eight seconds and Andrew Wiggins -- who finished with 25 points (10-16), four rebounds, three steals and six turnovers in 39 minutes -- missed a 25-foot three-pointer that would have won the game at the buzzer.
"We were in a situation where we just needed a push. I thought when it left his hands it was going in," Saunders said. "Thad got a great rebound, he pushed it and found Chase. Chase took it and he found Wiggins for a good shot."
Sure, Wiggins missed the shot, but after the game it was hard to feel disappointed. Compared to most of the games over the past month this one was a real treat to watch. The game was competitive, the Wolves played with tenacity and were unselfish (30 assists to the Suns' 12), they gave themselves a chance to win at the end and Wiggins got his first taste of taking the final shot with the game on the line.
Moreover, Anthony Bennett had his second double-double of the season (14 points and 10 rebounds in 22 minutes) and arguably the best performance of his Wolves career. He showed a pulse for the first time in weeks -- he hasn't truly shown up since December 6 in San Antonio, though that double-double came mostly in garbage time -- on the eve of Jeff Adrien's departure.
Dumping the long-two from his game is still a no-brainer, but I was encouraged by Bennett's rebounding and overall energy on defense. Over the last month he's looked perplexed, often lost on the court, but on Wednesday night he was engaged and focused. He was doing the dirty work. Bennett's shot chart (below) still wasn't where it needs to be, but at least he took a step in the right direction last night (4-6 inside the paint, 2-4 from mid-range).
Another reason I'm OK with this loss (besides Jahlil Okafor): Budinger played well, scoring 10 points and 5 rebounds in 24 minutes. His play provided a glimmer of hope that the Wolves might still be able to get something out of him, or possibly for him. Saunders opted to keep him in the game over Shabazz Muhammad because Muhammad got torched by Green for eight quick points to start the fourth quarter. While the move might have bothered some people, I wasn't offended by the decision if that's what it takes to get Muhammad to step up on the defensive end.
Saunders on team's effort in the loss:
"Good effort, I thought guys at times were much better defensively. Phoenix turned it up of course in the fourth quarter and scored on 27 possessions. Their guys put a lot of pressure on you. I thought overall, we had some growth in some of our guys. That's the positive. I thought Wiggins played good. Mo [Williams] of course played good. Wiggins did a lot of things defensively, we needed him to guard all of those guys. We needed him to guard Bledsoe, we needed him to guard Dragic, we needed him to guard Green, we needed him to guard Thomas. So we needed him to guard all four of those guys but we could only put him on one. Overall, the guy he was on, he did a pretty good job."
A few tweets from last night:
Marcus Morris had a brief tantrum on the sidelines...
For the record, I wasn't worried. My feeling was more like, "[redacted] we played pretty well, but we're most likely going to [redacted] lose again."