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Suns Outlast Timberwolves in Overtime
By: Stefan Swiat, Suns.comSometimes there’s no substitute for good substitutes.
Thanks to an inspired effort turned in by the bench, the Suns were able to power through to an 84-83 overtime victory over the visiting Timberwolves on Tuesday.
“I think the bench was the difference,” Suns reserve swingman Wes Johnson. “During this season, when the bench plays well and is able to keep the lead, I think that is when we play the best basketball.”
In the first half, the Phoenix reserves outscored Minnesota’s 25-5 before outscoring them 44-29 on the night. The Suns bench tipped off the second quarter with a 10-0 run before Phoenix eventually stretched its lead to 18 in the period.
However, the Timberwolves would recover, holding the Suns to just 30 points in the second half. Fortunately for Phoenix, Suns point guard Goran Dragic connected with Marcin Gortat on a pick-and-roll with 13.6 seconds left in regulation to force OT.
“The game has been better for me and for him,” Gortat said of his pick-and-roll rapport with Dragic. “Our chemistry is better after having a few talks after All-Star. He’s changed his game and is trying to pass the ball more often and create for everybody else.”
In overtime, Johnson nabbed a steal and dished out an assist to P.J. Tucker for a dunk with 1:12 ticks left in the extra period. Johnson followed up that play with a crafty dish to Gortat with 45.5 seconds remaining to give Phoenix a four-point lead and the separation it needed for the win.
The heavy-lifting was done on the defensive end, which saw the Suns limit the Wolves to 34-percent shooting from the field and 26-percent shooting from behind the arc on the night. The 34-percent shooting was a season low for an opponent.
“Our guys did a good job of fighting over screens, going underneath and changing coverages,” Suns Head Coach Lindsey Hunter said. “We must have changed four or five times throughout the game. Guys executed well.”
Offensively for the Suns, an array of players got into the action, with six players reaching double figures in scoring. Johnson and power forward Markieff Morris came off the bench to lead the Suns with 14 points apiece, while Suns center Marcin Gortat joined them with 14 points of his own. Power forward Luis Scola and Dragic each chipped in 10 points, as well.
Backup center Jermaine O’Neal posted his fourth double-double of the season by racking up 12 points and 13 caroms. The veteran big man has now tallied three double-doubles in the last six games.
The Suns moved to 4-2 on the first night of a back-to-back set of games under Hunter and improved to 7-0 following a previous loss to Minnesota.
Phoenix looks to make it two in a row when it visits San Antonio on Wednesday.
Polish national team head coach Dirk Bauermann was at US Airways Center to visit with his center, Marcin Gortat, early on Tuesday. Bauermann, who was Germany’s former national team coach, once led Dirk Nowitzki and Co. to a silver medal at the 2005 FIBA European Championships.
Although Bauermann visited with two Polish National Team up-and-comers that play for Liberty and Gonzaga, the main objective of the trip was to talk with the Suns big man.
“If Marcin puts his mind to it, he could become one of the best, if not the best player in the EuroBasket 2013 Tournament,” Bauermann said. “The competition is obviously extremely strong.
“But if he comes in well-prepared and he’s totally committed, the sky is the limit for him. He could help us get to the Promised Land because we would be able to qualify for the 2014 FIBA World Championships in Spain.”
Gortat went to lunch with Bauermann, who was just recently appointed to the post. The Suns center is excited to work with such a renowned coach and believes that if Poland performs like it did during last summer’s qualifiers, the country has a great chance to shine this summer in the championships.
“We’re going to be dangerous,” the 6-11 center said. “With this coach? It’s 100 percent that we’re going to be dangerous.”
Since the All-Star break, few players have stuffed the stat sheet like Suns point guard Goran Dragic. The 6-3 floor leader had posted at least 10 points, 10 assists and two steals in four-straight games for the first time in his career.
In fact, it’s the first time a Sun has uncorked a streak of its kind since Jason Kidd did so in 1999. His four consecutive games in double-digit assists were also a career-best. That streak was finally snapped against the Timberwolves on Tuesday.
Although it’s only been three games, newly-acquired Suns forward Marcus Morris is already making an impact on his twin brother. Suns power forward Markieff Morris is averaging 11.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.0 steals a night since his twin was traded from Houston.
This run is coming on the heels of an eight-game stretch where he averaged just 5.2 points and 3.8 rebounds.
“It’s definitely going to help my game a lot more because he’s someone that I’ve played with for a while,” Markieff said. “It’s like the Spurs between him and I. We’ve been together for a while.”
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