After precariously hanging around for most of three quarters, tonight's game in Phoenix finally got away from the Wolves late in the third and early in the 4th as the Suns got hot from the perimeter and the Wolves lost whatever offensive flow Ricky Rubio was able to provide early in the 2nd half. The result was a 106-97 loss, the Wolves 2nd straight to start their four game road trip.
It can be difficult to come up with new ways to describe losses, many of which look very much the same. The Wolves were outshot from the field, as usual, they were hammered on the Suns offensive glass, as usual, and while the Suns didn't shoot it well from three, they still made 5 more than the Wolves from out there tonight (6-24 vs. 1-13). As usual. The Wolves managed to hang around by making their free throws and forcing turnovers, but it wasn't nearly enough tonight.
Before the game, Flip had this to say, according to Jerry Zgoda:
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Pre-game blog: KG sits, Payne starts again. Flip plans to limit Rubio's time, wants to see Zach more at the 2 <a href="http://t.co/VONKh53KD6">http://t.co/VONKh53KD6</a></p>— Jerry Zgoda (@JerryZgoda) <a href="https://twitter.com/JerryZgoda/status/575834275099975680">March 12, 2015</a></blockquote>
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He did manage to limit Rubio's minutes to 28 tonight, mostly by sitting him the entire 2nd quarter, but given any number of opportunities to get LaVine in the game at the off-guard spot, he ignored all of them. He could have brought him in early for Kevin Martin, but didn't. He could have subbed in Lorenzo Brown in the 2nd and move LaVine over, but chose to play Chase Budinger (!) instead. No, LaVine was once again the back up point guard, for better or (mostly) worse.
As for Payne, his follow up to his big game in L.A. was...not good. He made a couple early and looked headed for a 2nd straight notable night, but started missing as the game went along, and was a mess defensively once again. He was yanked 20 seconds into the 3rd quarter thanks to a lazy inbounds pass to Rubio, and was out of sorts upon his return, missing a dunk late in the quarter that led to a four point turnaround and signaled the beginning of the end.
The big story tonight was Justin Hamilton, who saw his first extended action in a Wolves uniform, and shined. He finished with 15 points on 7-12 shooting (including the Wolves only made three), three rebounds and two blocks in 28 minutes. He looked good defending in the paint, something he isn't known for, and showed some nice touch around the basket. Given how shorthanded the Wolves were up front after Nikola Pekovic left the game early, it was sorely needed.
Still. When the Wolves tried to make a final push, the lineup was Rubio, Martin, Wiggins, Payne, and Hamilton. That was the best five they could find (though they might have been better off with Dieng instead of Payne). It wasn't nearly good enough. The truth is, they were out-manned, as they are most nights. Flip's coaching isn't grading out as an A either, but ultimately, they are still short on talent.
- Unusually, the bench outscored the starters tonight for the Wolves, as three reserves were in double figures; Hamilton, Budinger, and Gorgui Dieng.
- Budinger showed a pulse in his 19 minutes, going for 10 and 5 with a couple of nice finishes at the rim. It's been months since we've seen something like that from him.
- Andrew Wiggins looks exhausted. Flip actually sat him the entire 2nd quarter as well, and he played only 29 minutes, with very little energy after the first few minutes of the ball game. He wound up with 11 shot attempts on the night, finishing with 10 points.
- Ricky Rubio started 1-6 and finished 4-11 from the field, but the shot...he missed all four of his three attempts, 3 of which were of the absolutely wide open have-to-shoot-it variety. He had a much better run in the third quarter, keeping the Wolves in it until late in the quarter, but overall not a great outing for him. His ankle is apparently bothering him.
- Nikola Pekovic played the first 8 minutes of the game, struggled, and did not return as his ankle continues to cause problems. I wouldn't be surprised to see him shut down at some point.
- The Suns shot 50% and grabbed 16 offensive rebounds; they grabbed about one-third of their misses.
- T.J. Warren looked very impressive off the bench for the Suns, finishing with 17 on 8-10 shooting and grabbing 5 boards in 19 minutes.
- Markieff Morris likes playing the Wolves. 24 points tonight.
- Wolves are in Oklahoma City on Friday. Russell Westbrook!