Phoenix – A day after he promised to be a changed, more aggressive scorer, Timberwolves star Jimmy Butler accepted his share of the blame defensively for Saturday night's 118-110 loss at Phoenix.
Leading by seven points with 10 minutes left and by six points with five minutes left, the Wolves allowed a drifting Suns team to score 14 unanswered points down the stretch on a night when their tag team of Devin Booker and T.J Warren combined to score 70 points, split right down the middle at 35 points each.
When it was over, the Wolves had lost their second consecutive game on a three-game trip that ends Monday at Utah.
When it was over, the Suns had reeled off those 14 points and turned a 103-97 deficit into a 111-103 lead in the final minute.
When it was over, Warren had scored 10 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter and Booker had scored 12 of his with Butler trying to hold him down most of the night.
The Wolves went more than four minutes without scoring a point, but it wasn't their bad shots and missed shots that caused such a collapse. Rather, it was their inability to defend. They allowed more than 100 points for the eighth time in 12 games this season.
More precisely, Butler attributed it to an inability to force opponents to their weaknesses and letting them exploit their strengths, and he took the blame for allowing Booker to seemingly score at will.
"That's on me," Butler said. "Man, he whipped my tail tonight. I wasn't up on shots. He got to anywhere he wanted to go on the floor. We've got to be better on the defensive end, and it starts with me."
The Wolves didn't score a point from the time point guard Jeff Teague's three-point shot gave them that six-point lead until Butler made a free throw with 47 seconds that stopped the Suns' barrage.
The Suns' eight-point victory ended a five-game losing streak, three of them at home. It also gave the Wolves a second consecutive loss after they started the season 7-3.
"The scoring wasn't the issue," Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. "To me, you allow 118 points, we have a four-point lead with four minutes to go and we have the ball. We have to execute and we didn't execute."
The Wolves still had a 103-99 lead and the ball with 4:09 left and then went scoreless on possession after possession, starting with big man Karl-Anthony Towns' missed three-pointer. After that, Teague lost the ball, committing a turnover. Butler stepped out of bounds on a baseline drive. Andrew Wiggins missed a 16-foot pullup shot and Butler's forced 31-foot banked shot near the 24-second shot clock's end missed.
Afterward, Butler didn't look at the shots missed, rushed or not taken. He pointed to the defensive stops that never came.
"We didn't guard," Butler said. "It's hard to win in this league when you're constantly trying to outscore the other team. Yeah, we can score, but we make it a lot easier on ourselves if we decide to play defense. We have to do it. We have to stop giving up 100 or whatever we gave up the last couple games, pretty much all year. We've got to be better. I've got to be the one that sets that tone, man."
On Friday, Butler vowed he'd be a "different player from here on out" and promised he'd be more aggressive offensively, looking for his shot.
He scored 25 points Saturday, but he did it the hard way, getting to the free throw line for 16 shots and making 14 of them while he made five of 17 shots from the field.
Thibodeau was asked if his team underestimated the Suns.
"I'm sorry," he said. "… Devin Booker is a pretty high-profile guy. I think they know the team. It's hard to win in this league, and you have to do all the little things to win in this league and we didn't do it."