PHOENIX – The Phoenix Suns’ bench outscored their Timberwolves counterparts 37-12 on Monday, but that lopsided statistic wasn’t what put interim head coach Sam Mitchell in a mood afterward.
It was the fact that his team’s reserves were outrebounded 16-7 and outdone in any number of ways, some you can quantify statistically and others you can’t but all contributed to a 107-104 loss decided by Phoenix forward Mirza Teletovic’s rainbow three-pointer with 1.2 seconds left.
Mitchell’s young stars — Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine — contributed 67 points between the three of them, and Ricky Rubio followed Friday’s winning three-point shot in Oklahoma City by tying the franchise record for assists for the fourth time (17).
But it was the burden imposed upon his team’s starting five by the bench — so thoroughly outplayed, namely by Teletovic, who made five three-pointers and scored 21 points — that left Mitchell wanting so much more.
“At some point, we’ve got to get some kind of bench production and not just scoring,” Mitchell said. “Play some defense. Get a rebound. Set a screen. It’s can’t just be guys coming into the game thinking they’re going to score all the time. We’ve got to get some toughness coming from the bench, something. It just puts so much pressure on the five starting guys.”
He played five men off his bench Monday, from Shabazz Muhammad’s 23 ½ minutes to Adreian Payne’s three. His plea for more production was aimed at the young players, meaning everybody — including 27-year-old rookie Nemanja Bjelica — but excluding savvy veteran Tayshaun Prince.
Mitchell says he knows about trying to do more than you’re capable of or more than your team needs because he was a young player, too, once upon a time.
“We’re trying to stress to a bunch of young guys that everybody is not going to make their mark in the NBA scoring the basketball,” Mitchell said. “It’s impossible. If some of the guys in that locker room coming off the bench don’t understand that, then we’ve got to find some guys who understand playing a role or we’re never going to get where we want to go.
‘‘Your first thought can’t be about getting a shot. It’s got to be toughness. It’s got to be defense. It’s got to be setting screens. It’s got to be everything but scoring …
“Do some of the tough stuff and then the easy stuff comes. You’ll get shots. But they’ve got to learn that. Everybody thinks they’re going to make it in this league by scoring. News flash: You’re not going to have 15 20-point scorers on a team.”
Mitchell preached his message after Monday’s loss and then again at Tuesday’s practice in Phoenix before the team flew to Memphis for Wednesday’s game.
“I think the message is across,” rookie point guard Tyus Jones said Tuesday. “We just have to be better. The dirty work, the 50-50 balls, the hustle plays, that’s what Coach stresses to us. Coach talks about everyone finding their role, and that’s what everyone is trying to do right now.
‘‘We just have to come together and play. We have games like OKC where we play really well and then we come out like last night.”
Muhammad supplied 10 of the Wolves’ 12 bench points and four of its seven rebound, but admitted that everybody, himself included, needs to do more.
“A lot of guys think they all have to score the ball,” Muhammad said. “Even with me, I love scoring the ball. But I have to rebound, defend. That’s the stuff that makes my team better. That’s the stuff Sam’s talking to us about.
‘‘I just think with a young team, everybody was The Man in college and a lot of guys don’t want to take that back seat right now. But if we figure out our identity, we can be a really good team.”