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Suns 108, Wolves 106: Under the Microscope

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The team couldn’t hold off the Suns after forcing 19 turnovers in the first half. Jimmy Butler injured his back in the second half as the team watched their lead disappear in the fourth quarter.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Minnesota Timberwolves Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — As fun as the win was against the Kings this past Thursday, tonight’s loss to the Suns was equally as frustrating. At certain points, the Wolves held a 15-point lead in the first half and an 11-point lead in the second half. They forced 27 turnovers with 14 steals and eight blocks.

They still lost to one of the worst teams in the conference, one they have lost to twice now while leading most of the game. Once again they struggled from deep, making nine of 27 attempts, compared to 11-24 from behind the arc for Phoenix.

The visiting team didn’t take their first lead until 7:51 remaining in the fourth quarter. From then on it was a back and forth struggle that was painful to watch as a Wolves fan. After leading most of the game, the team needed to claw their way back to take the lead on a Jimmy Butler tip-in with 1:06 remaining on the clock.

After a couple of missed shots and Minnesota holding onto a one-point lead, Jeff Teague made the biggest mistake he’s made this year. Isaiah Canaan pump faked from deep with six seconds left, causing Teague to jump into him and drawing the foul, but the call on the court was a shot-clock violation.

It was deemed a foul with .2 seconds left after review and Tom Thibodeau was livid with the call.

“They didn’t call a foul. My interpretation is what they called was a shot clock violation,” Thibs said after the game.

On the broadcast, it looked as if the ref made a fist like he was about to call a foul, but tapped his head when he saw the clock. Either way, it was a foul by Teague and a monumental mistake.

“I was just trying to make him shoot a tough one,” Teague said of the play in the locker room. He was pretty mum on it otherwise.

Canaan made all three shots, the Wolves faltered on the other end and the team lost 108-106. The worst of it all may be that Butler injured his back in the second half. After the injury, he looked stiff and his game was definitely affected by it.

It was the second time in three games the team has lost after forcing 26+ turnovers. The Suns bench scored 69 points and hit all of their threes. It would have been a tasteless win had the Wolves held on, but that just makes the loss so much more sour.

Chalk up another shoulda, coulda, woulda game:

It was frustrating to watch even with the lead. Phoenix had 19 of their turnovers in the first half alone and the team couldn’t pull away. They led the game by eight points at half-time.

“Seems like we get a good lead, go up 20 or maybe 15, we start feeling good and then just have a letdown,” Taj Gibson said after the game. That statement is a microcosm of this Wolves season. Every time they have a good stretch of games or just one game, they follow it up with a letdown.

The team wore their aurora green Statement jerseys but made no statement tonight. This game highlighted the biggest fears heading into the season: poor shooting, and what will happen to the team if one of the big three get hurt.

The team couldn’t buy a bucket throughout the game and despite great defense in the first, the second half defense eroded as soon as Butler was injured. Alex Len had his way in the pick and roll and on the glass. He had 12 points, 19 boards and six assists. Dragan Bender had career-highs in points (17) and threes made(5-8). Troy Daniels continued to be lights out from three, hitting four of six on his way to 17 points of his own.

The team was out-rebounded 52-31. Part of that is the high turnover margin and the fact the Wolves shot so poorly, but mediocre big men as well as the good ones have had their way this season against the team’s front court.

Still, the biggest concern to me is the injury to Butler. He was visibly bothered by his back when he came back in and you question the thought process to risking your best player in a game in December against one of the worst teams in the league.

On top of that, you call his number on the last four possessions of the game where he tries to draw fouls with heavy contact. Not surprising he only made one of those shots. He was sorely needed in the second half, which is embarrassing considering the circumstances, but really how important is this game? Why take the risk and let him play 37 minutes on a bad back?

Karl-Anthony Towns had 28 points (4-7 from deep), 11 boards, four assists and two steals. I am not sure why something wasn’t drawn up for him at the end of the game. That’s something we’ve seen this year where the team goes away from him even if he’s been good early in the game.

Andrew Wiggins struggled on offense again and he’s had a bad stretch of games now. I am not sure what it is but the shots are not falling. He was one of six on three pointers and he’s shooting 31.1% from deep this year. After seeing big improvement last year, Wigs has regressed back to what we saw from him earlier in his career.

When a team loses, they are put under a microscope. If the refs stuck with their shot-clock violation call, the Wolves likely would have won and everyone would have collectively breathed a sigh of relief. It wouldn’t have been pretty, but the team has had a fair share of those types of wins already.

It is starting to be a concern that there have been those handful of scary wins, and the handful of really bad losses to mediocre teams. Is it a minutes issue causing the fourth quarter bugaboos or something else? Why can’t the defense be consistent when we’ve seen what it’s capable of like in today’s first half?

This isn’t a young team anymore as they are the seventh oldest team in the league. Veteran additions in Butler, Gibson and Teague have upped the experience of this team by so much, and yet we’re seeing similar issues to the younger teams of Minnesota’s recent past.

They are still sitting at the number four seed in the west. Overhauled teams with high expectations of years past have had slow starts, and you just have to look at divisional foe OKC to see it could be worse right now.

I’m not pulling the fire alarm yet on this season, but games like tonight can really make you worry. The team continues their home stand Monday against the Blazers.