Suns ride fourth-quarter surge past Wolves
MINNEAPOLIS -- While the Minnesota Timberwolves often are unable to protect double-digit leads, the Phoenix Suns are the opposite, finding ways to win despite falling into deficits.
The Suns proved that talent again Sunday afternoon with a 127-120 victory at Target Center, where they overcame a 22-point, second-quarter deficit.
Phoenix (41-29) remains just behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the Western Conference's eighth and final playoff spot, while Minnesota (34-34) watched its playoff chances all but disappear.
For the third game in a row, the Suns earned a victory thanks to fourth-quarter defense that was nowhere to be found until then.
"Why can't we do that the first three quarters?" Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek asked. "That's my only question. Then we wouldn't be sweating and getting gray hairs and all that stuff."
The Suns surrendered 41 first-quarter points and trailed 51-29 fewer than three minutes into the second quarter. However, Phoenix pulled within 11 points by halftime and wiped away a 10-point deficit after three quarters with a 14-3 run that started the fourth quarter and a 7-2, game-ending run.
Minnesota outscored Phoenix 41-27 in the opening quarter, but the Suns doubled up the Wolves 34-17 in the closing quarter after the visitors went small with a three-guard offense and ratcheted up their defense.
"That was our playoffs right there, and we lost," Wolves star Kevin Love after finishing with 36 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists. "This one hurts a lot more than the others."
The 10th-place Wolves fell six games behind the ninth-place Suns on an afternoon when they once again played without injured centers Nikola Pekovic (ankle) and Ronny Turiaf (knee bone bruise).
"We didn't finish the game off," Wolves coach Rick Adelman said during a terse postgame interview session. "We didn't score. That's the biggest difference."
The Suns did, overcoming point guard Eric Bledsoe's early trouble and finding everything they lacked for three quarters in the fourth quarter.
The Suns shot 57.5 percent from the field -- a fraction shy of the best performance by a Wolves opponent this season -- and 44.4 percent from 3-point distance, precision that allowed them to overcome a Wolves team that scored 32 points off 19 Phoenix turnovers.
When the game was on the line -- tied 118-118 with 66 seconds left -- the Wolves twice had the ball coming out of timeouts and twice turned it over. The first occurred when Love lost his grip on the ball, leading to Bledsoe's driving layup that gave the Suns a lead would never lose. The other giveaway came when guard Kevin Martin was called for traveling with 29 seconds left.
"I'm so tired of doing that," Suns forward P.J. Tucker said of the fourth-quarter comeback. "It's like, 'All right, we're down 25, all right, let's play.' It's unreal."
Tucker gathered a loose ball in the left corner and made a 3-point shot at the second-quarter buzzer that pulled the Suns within 73-62 at halftime after they were behind by 16 with 2:06 left.
"To only be down 11 is unbelievable," Tucker said. "We should have been down 20, 30 points. We came together at halftime and said, 'We can't do this. If we are going to be contenders, be in the playoffs, we've got start winning these kinds of games.'"
Bledsoe played just 63 seconds in the first quarter because of two quick fouls. He played all but 1:46 in the second half and played all the fourth quarter. The Suns were at their best with him on the floor beside Goran Dragic, another ball-handling point guard, with either swingman Gerald Green or point guard Ish Smith as a third guard.
"We wiped the sweat off our head, we couldn't be no badder than we played in the first half," Bledsoe said. "I don't know what it is about the fourth quarter, we get so hungry to win the game. If we start off the game like that, who knows? We're probably up by 20."
Forward Markieff Morris led Phoenix with 25 points. Bledsoe scored 21 points, and Tucker scored 19. Dragic contributed 18 points and six assists.
Martin scored 25 points, and Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio had 19 points and nine assists.
NOTES: Wolves backup PG J.J. Barea played Sunday despite a sprained foot that limited him to 15 minutes in Thursday's loss at Houston. He said it has been bothering him for more than a week and playfully denies he hurt it while attempting a startling tip-dunk against the Rockets. He was whistled for basket interference instead. "That's the first time I was hanging on the rim," Barea said. "I was just surprised. I surprised myself, I'm telling you. It was like, 'What am I doing up here?'" ... The Wolves put up 41 first-quarter points Sunday. They lead the league in 30-point first quarters this season with 32 and have so their last five consecutive games. They scored 40 points in a quarter four times this season, and all four of them were in the first quarter. The Wolves scored 40 points in a first quarter 11 times in their history and 40 points in any quarter 29 times.