PHOENIX – After a Dario Saric three-pointer in the third quarter of Phoenix’s 125-109 victory over the Timberwolves, a frustrated Ryan Saunders called timeout and threw a crumpled up piece of paper under the bench.
In the fourth quarter, some fans and the Wolves bench traded verbal jabs, causing Karl-Anthony Towns to come back into the huddle hot and Saunders to take a moment to chat with Jordan Bell, who was near the action. Minutes later, Josh Okogie began yelling at Towns after a defensive breakdown.
Frustration surrounded the Wolves on Monday, the result of a winless four-game road trip that has led to a five-game losing streak. This game wasn’t particularly close, as Phoenix turned a three-point Wolves halftime lead into a comfortable victory.
Towns had 33 points, but the Wolves allowed the Suns to shoot 50%, and continued a string of poor defensive performances. Devin Booker (26 points) and former Wolves players Dario Saric (20 points) and Ricky Rubio (16 points, 14 assists) sliced a lackluster defense in the second half, a defense that has given up an average of 135.3 points over its past three games. A 3-1 record was within reach on this trip, but it ended on the worst timeline.
“Adversity hits. How are we going to react? What are we going to do?” said Andrew Wiggins, who had 23 points. “That’ll show our character, and that’ll show us as basketball players who we are. Are we going to sit down and fold or are we going to fight?”
It led to some soul searching — the Wolves had a team meeting before media entered the locker room following the game.
“We talked to each other and addressed a few things,” forward Robert Covington said. “Just got to move forward. Got another game Wednesday. Can’t let things linger. … we told each other we got to just get back to ourselves, back to the fun we were having in the beginning of the year.”
It didn’t look like they were having any fun Monday — except maybe after the game. The locker room wasn’t downbeat as the Wolves prepared to stay overnight in Arizona. There was laughter and Gorgui Dieng joked with Wiggins during his interview.
There was a frank discussion, but little evidence that tensions boiled over.
Monday’s talk wasn’t about just defense. It was about having a sense of urgency and doing little things better.
“We needed it,” said Wiggins, who had 23 points but not the overall impact he had earlier in the season. “We’re losing games that are important and might come back to haunt us. Just refocusing, not getting complacent. I feel like we were kind of content where we were, how we started the season.”
The Wolves have boasted of their cohesion as unit, how their offseason bonding prepared them for these exact moments — a losing streak that could threaten to destabilize the team. They seemed determined not to lose that over this bad run, and they can have these kind of conversations because of that connectivity.
“Nobody takes things personal,” Okogie said. “Say what you got to say and just fix it and go on to the next one. … We’re all grown men. Nobody means harm and we know that, so we’re cool.”
Said Saunders: “That’s what family does. They talk through when things aren’t the way you’d like them to be.”
Nothing is as the Wolves would like it right now, but they are trying not to let it overwhelm the rest of the season.
“We just got to go back to the basics and do what we did earlier in the season,” Towns said. “We have to pay attention to small details and be a better team. We just got to go out there — actions over words.”
There were plenty of words to go around Monday night. The actions have to follow quickly.