It’s barely a month into the season, but it’s already, according to Ryan Saunders, the point when he doesn’t know “if anybody is 100 percent in the NBA.”
The Suns and Timberwolves were exhibit No. 1 for that on Saturday.
Missing for the Wolves were Josh Okogie, Robert Covington and Treveon Graham in addition to Jake Layman and Shabazz Napier, who were previously declared out.
Out for the Suns were Aron Baynes, DeAndre Ayton and former Wolves darling Ricky Rubio.
Those who were left played a basketball game at Target Center. It wasn’t a very aesthetically pleasing game, and compounding matters for those in attendance was that Phoenix beat the Wolves 100-98.
Even with arguably their three best defenders out in Covington, Graham and Okogie, defense wasn’t the main problem — the Wolves held Phoenix to 34% shooting. It was offense, where the Wolves shot just 42%, an ugly 29% from three-point range and a hideous 59% from the free-throw line.
“Just didn’t follow our system. We didn’t make shots,” center Karl-Anthony Towns said. “It’s obviously a little hard to get in rhythm when you ain’t making anything. They didn’t go through tonight.”
Try as he might, Towns couldn’t carry the Wolves to victory despite his 31 points and 17 rebounds. He had a chance to tie the game with the Wolves down 98-95, but his 35-foot three-pointer missed long with 9.2 seconds remaining.
Towns’ friend Devin Booker secured the rebound and the win for Phoenix with two free throws to cap off a 35-point night, which included 27 in the second half.
Kelly Oubre Jr. was the only other Suns player in double figures with 25, while Keita Bates-Diop surprised off the bench with 22 for the Wolves and Andrew Wiggins had 21.
“Some might get frustrated, but the shots are going to fall,” Wiggins said. “The longer we get to practice those same shots, we’ll get those same shots in the game, they’re going to fall eventually.”
They didn’t Saturday as the Wolves struggled to score against Phoenix’s zone defense in the first half. They liked the shots they were taking, they just weren’t falling, especially from deep.
“I think that’s more of a false narrative that we didn’t do well in the zone,” Towns said. “It was more that we didn’t make shots when we did exactly what we wanted to do.”
In the fourth quarter, the Wolves did what they wanted to do — get to the basket — and that’s when they made their push. But despite getting within one possession multiple times, the Wolves couldn’t complete the comeback.
The defense held its own, but Towns said he could feel the impact of the absences, especially with an All-NBA defender in Covington out for personal reasons.
“[Covington] is amazing, trying to not let the opponent even touch the paint with their feet,” Towns said. “When he does he has great hands where he’s swiping it or he’s stealing it from them or he’s making it very hard for them to even get the ball up. They had too many clean looks and they touched the paint too many times.
“It put us in a situation where we all had to collapse and they were able to make those kick-out plays to the corner or to the wing and they put us in a bad spot.”
That spot is now 3-6 at home with a roster that needs healing quickly.
“It’s tough when you have a number of injuries when they’re all at one position in a way,” Saunders said. “Then guys are playing out of their comfort zones. They did the best they could.”