After sloppily taking care of the Phoenix Suns at home on Sunday night, the Minnesota Timberwolves were hoping for a similar result Tuesday in Phoenix, albeit this time with a much cleaner performance.
Led by All-Star hopeful Karl-Anthony Towns, the undermanned Wolves found the right remedy in the land of the rising sun, blowing out the dreadful Suns 118-91. The victory Tuesday night marked only the third time all season that the Wolves were victorious against a Western Conference opponent on the road, and the “W” propelled Minnesota to just two games out of the 8-seed.
With Jeff Teague a late scratch due to left foot soreness (not to be confused with the ankle that had bothered him previously), the Wolves were forced to rely heavily on their third and fourth options at PG, just as we all predicted back when the season started. With Derrick Rose running on fumes after 38-minutes of cardio Sunday night, Ryan “Drip” Saunders pulled another ace out of his well-tailored sleeve, this time turning to Phoenix native and University of Arizona alum Jerryd Bayless to provide a much-needed spark off the bench, and boy did he spark.
Bayless poured in a season-high 14 points, including 9 in the first half, to go with 7 assists, 1 steal, and zero turnovers. The 30-year old Wildcat alum also jacked 11 3PA’s in 28 minutes, matching the same combined total for all five Phoenix starters. With Tyus Jones already on the shelf for the foreseeable future and Jeff Teague dusting off a spot to join him, the Wolves will need Jerryd to bay more down the stretch if they want to continue fighting for a playoff spot.
Outside of Bayless, the other surprising bright spot on Tuesday night was the performance from Mr. Nonstop himself Josh Okogie, who notched a career-high 21 points on 7-for-11 shooting, including 4-for-7 from beyond the arc. While the rook’s shooting has been (expectedly) up and down so far this season, the one thing that hasn’t wavered is his confidence:
While the prolonged injury to Robert Covington has resulted in an underwhelming stretch of basketball for Minnesota in terms of wins and losses, a lone bright spot of RoCo’s absence has been the increased opportunities for Josh to develop himself as more than just a pre-workout spark plug. Tuesday’s scoring total marked the fourth time in six games that Okogie tallied double-digit points, and his four 3’s matched a career-high for makes from deep. Continued and sustainable development from Okogie would be a major boon for the Wolves both short-term and long-term.
Last but not least — KAT. The other Wildcat alum (same mascot, different university) scorched the Ayton-less Suns yet again, this time doing most of his damage in the first half:
The 20 points and 11 rebounds for Towns marked the 51st time in his young career that he tallied a double-double in the first half. KAT also finished the first half with zero fouls in 19 minutes of action, a feat he has only accomplished 5 other times this season. With the Wolves mostly on cruise control in the second half, Towns essentially got the rest of the night off, finishing with 25 points, 18 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals, and 1 block. Someone book that dude a flight to Charlotte.
As for the squad opposite Minnesota in the box score, the Suns played about as poorly as one would expect from a team with a 11-38 record. In terms of production, it was actually Phoenix’s own version of an underwhelming Kansas Jayhawk (Josh Jackson) who paced the team in scoring, dropping in a season-high 27 points on 56% shooting.
The Suns’ usual bucket getter Devin Booker, who lately has been known just as much for his scoring prowess off the court as on it, finished Tuesday’s contest with a mere 14 points. While Josh Okogie provided the necessary energy and toughness needed to slow down a volume scorer like Booker, it was actually the often-maligned Gorgui Dieng who officially cooled Booker down by ironically lighting him up:
Dieng tells Booker to meet him in the hallway and I'm in tears at Suns security trying to hold Booker back pic.twitter.com/GTIV8XFcEC— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) January 23, 2019
Gorgui confirmed later on that despite Booker’s best intentions, the duo failed to meet up post game to finish their conversation:
Gorgui Dieng said he wasn’t sure why he got ejected. Said (with a smile) he wanted to meet Booker in the hallway to “exchange jerseys.” He didn’t get a chance to do that.— Chris Hine (@ChristopherHine) January 23, 2019
It’s been a frustrating season for the Louisville big man, but if his new strategy is getting the opponent’s best player ejected on a nightly basis, then by all means keep giving that guy max contracts.
The Wolves will now travel to the West Coast to square off against the Lance Stephenson-led Los Angeles Lakers Thursday night on TNT.
Full Game Highlights
- The Wolves finished the game with 41 3PA’s, their highest total since Ryan Saunders took over as head coach. Maybe it was simply the flow of the game (which at points looked like a juiced Saturday morning pickup game), or maybe it was something a little more. We all know the style that the Wolves new leader wants to emphasize — more threes and increased pace — so maybe this is his team (slowly) turning over a new leaf.
- Outside of Bayless, the Wolves bench was pretty “blah” against Phoenix, with 7 other players combining to score just 22 points.
- Minnesota was all over the glass Tuesday night, out-rebounding the Suns 64-34. The 64 boards marked the fourth highest total in franchise history.
- After watching multiple games, I can unequivocally say two absolute facts about Suns’ forward Dragan Bender: he is still super young (21) and he is still super bad (not good).
- Former Wolf and friend of the blog Jamal Crawford finished the game with zero points in 22-minutes. While Crawford’s biggest value this season has been as a mentor and not a player, he’s still a name to watch over the next few weeks as trade talks start begin heating up.
- Just how terrible are the Suns right now? They made Luol Deng and Anthony Tolliver look like the ‘89 Lakers: