2024 Playoffs: West First Round | Timberwolves (3) vs. Suns (6)

Timberwolves-Suns: 5 takeaways after Anthony Edwards' electric Game 1

Anthony Edwards fulfills his potential in the opener, while Phoenix needs much more from its own All-Star guard.

Anthony Edwards scores 18 of his 33 points in the decisive 3rd quarter to lead the Wolves past the Suns in Game 1.

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MINNEAPOLIS – Across 35 seasons, spanning 11 playoff berths and 13 total series, the opening games have aligned in a dreary pattern for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Typically, they open on the road. And they lose. The Wolves headed into the 2024 postseason with a 2-11 record in Game 1 and started nine of those series in the other guys’ buildings.

With their 120-95 victory over the Suns Saturday at boisterous Target Center in Game 1 of their first-round series, Minnesota flipped that script on both axes. Here are five takeaways:

1. Wolves hit a reset button

Contrary to popular belief and basic math, this best-of-seven series did not start at 0-0 Saturday. For the Timberwolves, it already felt like 0-3 due to the thorough beatings Phoenix put on them in the regular season.

The Suns outscored them by an average of 15.6 in the series. They did their damage early, leading each time by 13 points or more. Minnesota had the No. 1-ranked defense in the NBA this season at 108.4 points per 100 possessions, but against Phoenix they were a train wreck at 123.7. That would have ranked about 31st in the 30-team league.

“The narrative coming into the game wasn’t in our favor,” backup guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker said.

But this time, Minnesota earned mental equilibrium for however many games remain.

“We needed to take our game to another level,” Wolves coach Chris Finch said. “We played hard, we played desperate basketball with a chip on our shoulder, which is what we did early in the season when we were trying to establish ourselves.”

The defense was back. The Suns failed to score 100 points only five times during the season, and this matched their second-fewest. They were 2-13 when scoring less than 107.

That’s a pivotal number for Minnesota, too. The Timberwolves held teams to 106 or less 43 times and went 39-4. That elite defense built around center Rudy Gobert – the favorite to win Kia Defensive Player of the Year for the fourth time – held the Suns without a field goal for more than seven minutes to close the third quarter. In the second half, Phoenix shot 40%, had nine turnovers to seven assists, and scored only 44 points.

2. “MVP!” meets “O-ver-ra-ted!”

OK, the chant that provided background noise for Anthony Edwards made sense, as the delighted Minnesota fans bellowed “MVP!” while the popular young guard did a courtside postgame interview.

But the “O-ver-ra-ted! [clap, clap, clap-clap-clap]” stuff that accompanied a Durant trip to the foul line late in the first half might have been a mistake. The slender sniper scored 18 by halftime and soon would sting the home crowd again.

Durant drained four silky jumpers of varying distance in less than three minutes of the third quarter, thwarting Minnesota’s defensive looks and even turning Edwards into an on-court KD connoisseur.

“He made four, five straight buckets like it was nothing,” Edwards said. “And I became a fan at one point, like I was out there like, ‘Damn, he nice.’ It was like there was nothing we could do. We was playing great defense and it’s like he don’t see you. I mean, he’s the greatest ever doing that.”

Leave it to Edwards, though. Before Durant had finished his hot stretch, the Wolves guard started his own, scoring 16 of his team’s 20 points to push the lead to 89-70. He engaged in some smiling chatter at the Suns star and got a smile back from Durant.

“It’s just basketball – not even playoffs, it’s just hoop,” Durant said. “You get hot, you make shots, you make tough shots, you’re gonna feel excited about yourself. So it’s on me to keep coming back.”

Edwards, who considers Durant his personal GOAT, said: “I think everybody here knows that’s my favorite player of all time. That was probably one of the best feelings ever in my whole life, for sure.”

3. Booker’s middling matinee

Devin Booker, a four-time All-Star who matched Durant (27.1 ppg) as the Suns’ leading scorer this season, is a serious-looking fellow most of the time. He took a turn for the grim as Game 1 ground on, as if the game had tipped off about five hours too early for his liking.

Minnesota targeted Booker. He already has enough on his plate serving as Phoenix’s ersatz point guard, but his day got longer when waves of defenders, from Jaden McDaniels to Alexander-Walker to Edwards, pestered him.

Booker shot 5-for-16 and scored only 18 points, seven of which came in the final quarter when Phoenix drew no closer than 15. It’s worth noting that Booker was held below his averages – 22.7 ppg, 42% shooting, 30% on 3s – by Minnesota even in those lopsided regular-season meetings.

“We all just need to adjust to the playoffs, the physicality,” Booker said. “They’re being ultra physical with me and I had three early fouls and went to the bench. Just trying to find a rhythm from there.”

4. To the sitters go the spoils

Phoenix’s bench has been one of its weaknesses all season. That allegedly means less in the playoffs because most coaches tighten their rotation, giving ample minutes to seven or maybe eight players.

It mattered in this one, however. Most of the margin, in fact, was captured by the Wolves’ 41-18 scoring advantage by reserves.

Alexander-Walker hit four of nine 3s on his way to 18 points, and Naz Reid – a contender for Kia Sixth Man of the Year – had 12 points with a pair of 3s in about 19 minutes.

No Wolves starter fared better than Alexander-Walker’s plus-28 or Reid’s plus-22.

Phoenix’s depth could shrink more pending guard Grayson Allen’s availability for Game 2 Tuesday (7:30 ET, TNT/truTV). Allen sprained his right ankle in the third quarter and was done for the game. X-rays were negative, so treatment and a break of more than 72 hours between games will determine his fate.

After getting outrebounded 52-28 in Game 1, Phoenix must address its lack of presence on the glass.

5. Small lineup, small impact

Late in the first half, Suns coach Frank Vogel gave center Jusuf Nurkic a breather, replacing the 7-foot, 290-pounder with guard Eric Gordon. That left Durant, a reedy 6-foot-11, as the only Phoenix player over 6-foot-4.

Up 51-43 when Nurkic sat down, the Wolves pushed their lead to 14 in less than two minutes. Back came Nurkic.

Vogel tried it to end the third quarter, too, swapping out backup big Drew Eubanks for Bradley Beal for extra activity at 15.1 seconds. Alexander-Walker hit a 3-pointer with 2.7 seconds left to put Minnesota up by 20.

This matters because in the past, opponents have managed to get big men such as Karl-Anthony Towns and Gobert off the floor by going smaller and quicker. The Wolves didn’t blink in Game 1.

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Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on X.

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