MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – Deandre Ayton scored a career-high 35 points and 14 rebounds, Devin Booker scored 22 of his 28 points in the second half and the Phoenix Suns went on to lead the Minnesota Timberwolves 125-116 on Wednesday night.
Landry Schmett scored 10 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter to help boost the rally and bring the NBA-leading Suns within a win — or a Memphis defeat — to wrap up a homecourt advantage for the entire playoff. The Sons, 18-4 in their last 22 games and 59-14 overall, have a nine-game lead with nine games left.
Anthony Edwards scored 19 points for Minnesota, and Karl-Anthony Towns had 15 points and 11 rebounds—but after only three points and three rebounds in the second half he woke up the Suns with his trash-talking late for the first time.
The Timberwolves drew 1 1/2 games behind Denver for the No. 6 seed that escaped the play-in tournament. This is Minnesota’s first two-game losing streak since February 9–11.
The short-handed Phoenix won its sixth straight and completed its first sweep of three or more games against Minnesota in 11 seasons.
The Timberwolves had a 15-point lead in the third quarter and were still up 88-83 at the start of the fourth, but cooled off and ran out of energy.
Shemet gave the Sons their first lead at 95-94 in 8:35 with a pair of free throws, and the Timberwolves trailed the rest of the way.
This matchup of two of the four highest-scoring teams in the NBA—the Timberwolves being the first—had a fast pace to go with, as well as plenty of postseason-style intensity.
The Sons, who have confidently maintained their comfortable margin for the NBA’s best record for the past month without the playmaking and lead of 12-time All-Star point guard Chris Paul, went 15-4 and 66-51 shortly after halftime. Been behind.
The bright side of Paul’s absence, who is making incremental progress and appears to be close to a comeback, are elevated roles and responsibilities for others like Bridges and Shemet. The Sons are also missing sixth person Cam Johnson.
Sporting an 11-4 record since Paul broke his right thumb, the Sons never tried to work their way up against a promising team with youthful energy, a deep offense and a dose of bravery.
The Timberwolves were troubled by the umpiring in their last game, a double-digit loss at Dallas, and there were times when their emotions were more productive than others.
Towns went to the basket late in the second quarter and stunned Jay Crowder with one hand, complete with a stare, igniting the crowd and upset Sun. A few seconds later, a double technical foul was called for Towns and Crowder. Then the Timberwolves coach Chris Finch also got one for his opposition.
Crowder later cut Timberwolves insect Patrick Beverly in the head for making the Flagrant 1 foul after a video review, putting Beverly on the line after the first-half deadline.
The disciplinary whistle kept coming even after halftime. Ayton did a technical draw in the third quarter.
The Timberwolves will have a tiebreaker over the Nuggets, but they face a tough test to be seeded sixth. Minnesota’s game in Denver on April 1 could well be deterministic.
The Nuggets have nine games left, and five of them are against teams that were 10 or more games under .500 points entering Wednesday. The Timberwolves have eight games left, eight games or more against five opponents above .500.
Sun: Mikal Bridge had 16 points. … Cam Payne, Paul’s backup, returned to the lineup after missing the previous game with illness. … Ayton has 119 points in six career games against Minnesota.
Timberwolves: Towns crosses the 11,000 mark in the 475th game of his career. Hall of Fame member Kevin Garnett is the only other player in franchise history to reach that milestone, having done so in 575 games. … the bench had a 55-28 scoring lead over the Suns. The Timberwolves fell 21–10 this season when their reserve scored over 40 points.
The Sun: Thursday night in Denver.
Timberwolves: Host Dallas on Friday nights.
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