Timberwolves-Suns: 5 takeaways after Anthony Edwards’ electric Game 1

While Anthony Edwards thrived, Devin Booker struggled in Game 1.

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MINNEAPOLIS – Over 35 seasons, spanning 11 playoff berths and 13 total series, the opening games have been in a dismal pattern for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

They usually open along the way. And they lose. The Wolves entered the 2024 postseason with a 2-11 record in Game 1 and started nine of those series in the other boys’ buildings.

With their 120-95 win over the Suns Saturday at tempestuous Target Center in Game 1 of their first-round series, Minnesota flipped that script on both axes. Here are five takeaways:

1. Wolves press a reset button

Contrary to popular belief and simple math, this best-of-seven series did not start at 0-0 on Saturday. For the Timberwolves it already felt like 0-3 due to the heavy beating Phoenix gave them in the regular season.

The Suns beat them by an average of 15.6 in the series. They did their damage early and led by 13 points or more each time. Minnesota had the No. 1 defense in the NBA this season at 108.4 points per 100 possessions, but against Phoenix they were a train wreck at 123.7. That would have ranked about 31st in the 30-team league.

“The narrative that came into play was not in our favor,” reserve guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker said.

But this time, Minnesota deserved mental balance, no matter how many games remain.

“We had to take our game to another level,” Wolves coach Chris Finch said. “We played hard, we played desperate basketball with a chip on our shoulder, which we did early in the season when we were trying to establish ourselves.”

The defense was back. The Suns only managed to score 100 points five times during the season, and this tied for their second fewest. They were 2-13 when they scored less than 107.

That’s also a crucial number for Minnesota. The Timberwolves held teams to 106 or less 43 times and went 39-4. That elite defense around center Rudy Gobert – the favorite to win Kia Defensive Player of the Year for the fourth time – held the Suns without a field goal for more than seven minutes to end the third quarter. In the second half, Phoenix shot 40%, had nine turnovers to seven assists and scored just 44 points.

2. “MVP!” meets “Overrated!”

Okay, the background noise chant for Anthony Edwards made sense, as the delighted Minnesota fans chanted “MVP!” roared. while the popular young guard did a courtside postgame interview.

But the “Overrated! (clap, clap, clap-clap-clap)” stuff that accompanied a Durant trip to the foul line late in the first half might have been a mistake. The rangy sniper scored 18 at half-time and would soon sting the home crowd again.

Durant drained four silky jumpers from varying distance in less than three minutes in the third quarter, thwarting Minnesota’s defensive looks and even turning Edwards into an on-court KD expert.

“He made four, five straight buckets like it was nothing,” Edwards said. “And I became a fan at some point, like I was out there like, ‘Damn, he’s nice.’ It was like there was nothing we could do. We played great defense and it’s like he doesn’t see you. I mean, he’s the best to ever do that.”

Leave it to Edwards, though. Before Durant had finished his hot stretch, the Wolves guard started his own stretch, scoring 16 of his team’s 20 points to push the lead to 89-70. He had a laughing chat with the Suns star and got a smile in return from Durant.

“It’s just basketball, not even playoffs, it’s just hoops,” Durant said. “You’re going to be hot, you’re going to make shots, you’re going to make hard shots, you’re going to be excited about yourself. So it’s up to me to keep coming back.”

Edwards, who considers Durant his personal GOAT, said: “I think everyone here knows this is my favorite player of all time. That was probably definitely one of the best feelings ever in my entire life.

3. Booker’s mediocre matinee

Devin Booker, a four-time All-Star who matched Durant (27.1 ppg) as the Suns’ leading scorer this season, looks serious most of the time. He took a grim turn as Game 1 continued, as if the game had started about five hours early for his liking.

Minnesota targeted Booker. He already has enough on his plate as Phoenix’s ersatz point guard, but his day got longer as waves of defenders, from Jaden McDaniels to Alexander-Walker to Edwards, mobbed him.

Booker went 5-for-16 and scored just 18 points, seven of which came in the final quarter when Phoenix couldn’t get closer than 15. It’s worth noting that Booker was held below his average: 22.7 ppg, 42% shooting, 30 % on 3s – by Minnesota, even in those lopsided regular season meetings.

“We all just have to adjust to the playoffs, the physicality,” Booker said. “They are extremely physical with me and I got three early fouls and went to the bench. I try to find a rhythm from there.”

4. The loot goes to the keepers

Phoenix’s bench has been one of the weak points all season. That reportedly means less in the playoffs as most coaches tighten their rotations and give enough minutes to seven or maybe eight players.

However, with this one it was important. In fact, most of the margin was captured by the Wolves’ 41-18 scoring advantage through the reserves.

Alexander-Walker hit four of nine threes on his way to 18 points, and Naz Reid – a contender for Kia Sixth Man of the Year – had 12 points with a pair of threes in about 19 minutes.

No Wolves starter did better than Alexander-Walker’s plus-28 or Reid’s plus-22.

Phoenix’s depth could shrink even further pending the availability of guard Grayson Allen for Game 2 Tuesday (7:30 ET, TNT/truTV). Allen sprained his right ankle in the third quarter and was out for the game. X-rays were negative, so treatment and a break of more than 72 hours between matches will determine his fate.

After being outscored 52-28 in Game 1, Phoenix needs to address its lack of presence on the glass.

5. Small setup, small impact

Late in the first half, Suns coach Frank Vogel gave center Jusuf Nurkic a breather and replaced the 7-foot, 290-pounder with guard Eric Gordon. That left Durant, a reedy 6-foot-1, as the only Phoenix player over 6-foot-1.

Leading 51-43 when Nurkic sat down, the Wolves pushed their lead to 14 in less than two minutes. Back came Jurkic.

Vogel also tried to end the third quarter, substituting backup big Drew Eubanks for Bradley Beal for extra activity at 15.1 seconds. Alexander-Walker hit a 3-pointer with 2.7 seconds left to give Minnesota a 20 lead.

This is important because in the past opponents have been able to get big men like Karl-Anthony Towns and Gobert off the floor by going smaller and faster. The Wolves didn’t blink in Game 1.

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Steve Aschburner has been writing about the NBA since 1980. You can send him an email here, his archive can be found here and follow him on X.

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