Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker has earned the respect of Minnesota Timberwolves fans with the way he has dominated their favorite team both on the basketball court and in the trash talk category.
The three-time All-Star scored 11 of his 28 points in a dominant fourth quarter that saw the Suns grab hold of the game quickly after a slowly burning third quarter run pulled Phoenix out of a 13-point halftime hole and back to within five points at the end of the third.
The MVP candidate picked the Wolves defense apart off the dribble by dragging out the Minnesota high-wall defense before hitting a rolling Deandre Ayton in the middle of the floor, from where Ayton made floaters, hit cutters, and found corner 3-point shooters. When the Wolves gave help on Ayton, Booker instead routinely took defenders 1-on-1 to make some big-time shots and talked some major trash while doing so.
Ayton scored a game-high 35 points thanks to some phenomenal playmaking from Monty Williams’ starting backcourt, which combined for 16 assists to five turnovers.
After struggling to find the touch in the first half, including four bunny misses, Ayton really poured it on in the second, scoring 19 points on 8/12 shooting against a defense that had no answer for him.
Landry Shamet made some huge 3s that created inflection points during pivotal moments that kept Phoenix in the game in the first half and extended the Suns’ lead in the fourth quarter.
After it was all said and done, Booker, Ayton and Shamet all scored in double figures in the fourth quarter, perfectly executing the issues with the Wolves high-wall scheme. If a team can string together good playmaking guards with a big that can pass on short roll while flanked by shooters in the corners, Minnesota is going to give up a ton of open shots.
Unfortunately for the Wolves, they get Dallas at home on Friday before traveling to Boston on Sunday to take on the scorching Celtics; both teams possess those three attributes and are in prime position to dismantle the Wolves’ defense unless something changes.
Minnesota came out of the gates firing, but just didn’t have the juice to get it to the finish line against a well-oiled machine.
The Wolves built a lead early behind a locked in, aggressive scoring quarter from Karl-Anthony Towns that saw him score 10 points on seven shots, and a whole lot of trash talk directed towards Jae Crowder, who struggled with foul trouble all night trying to defend Towns.
We also saw a classic, raise-as-much-hell-as-possible performance from Jarred Vanderbilt in the first quarter, a welcomed sight after quiet stretch of games from him. Vanderbilt turned in four points and four rebounds but more importantly got the crowd into with his effort on both ends, which was a major factor in some of Ayton’s uncharacteristic misses.
Anthony Edwards and Patrick Beverley built on that five-point first quarter lead with some key 3s and scores inside, respectively, with the smack talk to match.
The Wolves’ momentum turned into angst when the referees stepped in and lost control of the game by trying to assert themselves in the second quarter. The officials handed seven technical fouls tonight, including a handful in the second quarter and one that was given to Edwards before it was oddly rescinded when the foul call was reversed.
Amidst a growing level of anxiety early in the second quarter, Minnesota head coach Chris Finch turned to Jaylen Nowell to get the scoring train back on the tracks. Nowell responded with 10 straight points, including two big 3s that stretched the Wolves’ lead to six after Phoenix tied the game at 38 apiece.
BACK-TO-BACK TREYS FOR JAYLEN pic.twitter.com/kZlH3EWkBP— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) March 24, 2022
The starters rode the momentum Nowell created into the half, culminating with this emphatic Towns dunk that gave Minnesota a double-digit lead late in the quarter.
The Wolves talked a ton while they were building a lead. The Suns held onto that and was certainly a factor in why Booker was as outspoken as he was when Phoenix began to crawl back into it in the third quarter before slamming the door in the fourth.
Minnesota took a 13-point lead into the half, but didn’t match the necessary intensity out of the break.
Talking trash has been an important aspect of the Timberwolves’ identity, but may be something the Wolves look to tone down a bit if they can’t keep their foot on the gas against the best of the NBA. Trash talking the likes of the Thunder, the Rockets, and the Lakers is a completely different ballgame than the Suns, Mavericks, Nuggets, or Celtics.
The Wolves didn’t come out with the energy they needed to, got punched in the mouth quickly, and couldn’t talk trash anymore, all while Phoenix was ratcheting up theirs.
The smack talk game is a double edged sword and tonight’s game was a perfect example.
After a 12-point first half, Towns scored only three points in the final 24 minutes (and only one point in the final 23), and Edwards was only able to add eight points in support of Towns. Even though D’Angelo Russell didn’t verbally talk, his game spoke for him tonight on a quiet night for him, on which he scored only six points on nine shots to go with seven assists.
Simply put, it’s tough to win when your best three players score only 15 points in the second half.
Anyone can talk that talk when they’re winning, but the real test comes when the going gets tough against great teams.
We found out tonight that the Wolves still have a ways to go before being able to keep their collective foot on the gas for 48 minutes against elite teams when Minnesota has them on the ropes. And that’s perfectly okay. Not all growth is linear, especially in the NBA, and for a team with as much of a mixture of incredible young talent paired with respected veterans, some nights may be ugly.
Tonight got ugly, again at the hands of Devin Booker.
Booker ruined his good friend KAT’s birthday in a win back on November 15, when he mocked’s a celebration of Towns’s at center court. This time around, he made play after play, and deservedly spit back in the Wolves’ face everything they said to him earlier on.
If you come for the best, you better not miss.
Next up for the Wolves is a crucial, must-win home game on Friday against the Mavericks, who beat the Rockets by 19 tonight without Luka Dončić (rest). Dončić will be coming off three days rest, while Minnesota will still be reeling from two tough losses against stiff competition.