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Timberwolves-Suns: 5 takeaways from Game 2 of NBA playoffs series

by Tunae

Jaden McDaniels seizes his moment, the Wolves’ defense shines again and the Suns head home facing a 2-0 series deficit.

The Timberwolves are 2 victories away from winning a playoff series for the first time in 20 years.

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MINNEAPOLIS – Never mind that no Timberwolves team in 20 years had started 2-0 in a playoff series until now. That’s ancient history and, besides, the Wolves only participated in three series between 2004 and now.

More interesting might be the fact that in beating Phoenix in Games 1 and 2 of their Western Conference first round matchup, the Wolves have outscored the Suns by 37 points. That’s the most since … last spring, when Denver spanked Minnesota by 38 in a series the eventual NBA champions won in five.

It’s too soon to know what significance that turnabout might have in the coming weeks, but here are five takeaways from the Wolves’ 105-93 victory Tuesday at Target Center:

1. Minnesota’s defense did what stars do

This is the time of year when the NBA’s greatest performers build their reputations and earn their fortunes. They “step up” in the postseason and do whatever it takes to win. And it’s a fact that the star of this Timberwolves team all season has been its defense.

Holding Phoenix to 95 points in Game 1 was just the appetizer. The Wolves cut that to 93 in Game 2, the first time since camp broke in October that the Suns have been held under 100 in consecutive games. They failed to reach triple digits only five times all season but haven’t sniffed it in two tries this week.

The Wolves, for context, ranked first in 2023-24 in defensive efficiency at 108.4 points allowed per 100 possessions. Boston was second at 108.6, a gap of 2.2 points that was as big as the gap from Boston to the 10th-ranked Houston Rockets.

The Suns (116.8) ranked 10th offensively but Minnesota’s defense has been mightier so far. Their trio of potent scorers – Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal – averaged 72.4 points during the season but have managed just 64 and 52 so far. They were held to six buckets each Tuesday for a cumulative 18-for-45 (40%) grind.

Phoenix has reached 30 points in just one of the eight quarters. Meanwhile, it has turned over the ball 36 times, sparking 54 of Minnesota’s points.

Suns coach Frank Vogel, asked what he thought of his team’s execution, could have borrowed an old line from NFL Tampa Bay coach John McKay and said, “I’m in favor of it.”

But credit Minnesota. Budding superstar Anthony Edwards has gotten most of the spotlight individually, but it was the stingy collective that won the night.

“Our level of urgency from the first minute of the game is at the highest level,” said Rudy Gobert, the tent pole for Minnesota’s defense. “We know that when we turn it up, we’re able to be a unique defensive team.”

2. McDaniels seizes his moment

Edwards attracted a crowd of Suns defenders from start to finish, shot 3-for-12 and got seven of his 15 points from the foul line. Karl-Anthony Towns got snared in foul trouble, the price paid for his heavier defensive load (especially guarding Durant), and sat all but eight minutes of the first half.

Backups Naz Reid and Nickeil Alexander-Walker were scoring at half their pace from Game 1. That opened the door for somebody, and Jaden McDaniels Euro-stepped through it.

He scored 25 points with eight rebounds, both one shy of his season highs, and shot 10-for-17 in more than 41 minutes. At 6-foot-9 and 185 pounds, the fourth-year wing has the reach, length and lateral quickness to pester all shapes and sizes of scorers, with Booker and Durant most often trying to shake him.

“He had a special performance,” coach Chris Finch said.

The Wolves coaching staff have wanted McDaniels to be more aggressive to the basket and on the glass. He can get lost in the shuffle of ball-dominant teammates, too, but opportunity knocked.

McDaniels, you might recall, didn’t play at all last postseason. He missed Minnesota’s series against Denver with a broken hand, the result of punching a wall near the end of the regular season. Teammate Mike Conley spoke of how badly he missed them and they missed him against the Nuggets.

“Yeah, he won’t tell you, but I know it really stung him a little bit ‘cause it was more self-inflicted than it was anything else,” the veteran point guard said. “We knew with him we were more of a complete team, had a chance to put some pressure on whoever we were gonna play, so I think that kind of set him up for this year. I think he came in with a different mindset. He’s taking advantage of this opportunity to play against the best players in the world, and showcase his talent in prime time.”

3. Booker ready for flight home

Booker averaged more than 27 points in his first taste of postseason action in 2021, helping the Suns get all the way to the Finals. Last spring he was even more special at 33.7 ppg, hitting 50% of his 3-pointers.

But he has scratched for 38 points in two games, shooting 11-for-29 and 3-for-12 from the arc. He withered in Game 1 under McDaniels’ attention, then had six turnovers before fouling out Tuesday.

He exchanged shoves with his defensive tormentor at one point. Then Booker picked up his fifth and sixth fouls in a span of 15 seconds, seemingly ready to leave the floor, the building, the state, the ZIP code and the time zone.

“My frustration is just within the team,” he said. “We need to execute. … We need to stick together once things turn bad. We’ve done that throughout the season – something that has to be corrected.”

4. A giddy Gobert challenge

Midway through the first quarter, the Wolves broke downcourt and there was Gobert leading the fast break. He ran into Phoenix’s lumbering center Jusuf Nurkic at the far end, flipping the ball up and, after a bounce, in.

Alas, the 7-foot-1 center was whistled for an offensive foul. Until coach Chris Finch challenged it and won, preserving Gobert’s whimsical dash and finish. To top it off, Nurkic got the foul. Gobert missed his and-1 free throw but McDaniels rebounded, got whacked and sank his two foul shots to complete the four-point sequence.

“I didn’t see nobody running with me,” Gobert said, “so I just went for it.”

5. Allen twists another night away

Suns guard Grayson Allen logged 25 minutes in Game 1 before twisting his right ankle and leaving for the night. This time, Allen was done after playing 17:27, stepping on Conley’s foot on defense to badly twist it again.

Both times, it left a void in Phoenix’s attack. On Saturday, the Wolves went on a 27-12 run after he exited to push their lead to 25. This time, Minnesota outscored the Suns 20-10 over the next six minutes to go up 72-63.

As a result, Allen has scored only seven points on 1-of-5 shooting in the series. He can try again in Game 3 Friday at Footprint Center (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on X.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Warner Bros. Discovery.

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