December 24, 2017, 2:23 am
For the fourth and final time this season the Wolves and Suns faced off. It’s been an even affair between these two teams despite the record disparity with the Suns taking two of the first three matchups.
This matchup ended up a tight one but it was the Wolves who jumped out to an early lead and commanded the first half. The Wolves held a 64-43 lead at halftime after some hot shooting from the first half and solid 3-point defense.
Coming out of half time though the Suns turned it around and looked more like the team that beat the Wolves twice this season. Their 3-point shooting opened up and it was once again from the bench that was the main source.
Troy Daniels and Isaiah Canaan combined for 33 points and eight 3-pointers and carried the Suns to a 37-point third quarter, outscoring the Wolves by 15 points. Canaan finished the game with 15 points and nine assists while Daniels finished with 18 points on 6-of-12 3-pointers.
Headed into the fourth quarter with a six point lead, it was Jimmy Butler who took over the show. Refusing to let this game slip away Butler became the man in the fourth quarter once again.
He finished the game with 32 points, six rebounds, three assists and one block. He shot 10-of-19 from the field and closed the game out on the line by going 12-of-13.
The game turned unnecessarily stressful come the second half after the Wolves utterly dominated the first half, but Butler, Towns and the bench were pretty huge in getting the team back on track and closing out the game.
On top of Butler’s work in the fourth, Towns was playing with his usual bench crew and had a nice game as well, finishing with 16 points, 14 rebounds, one assist, one steal and two blocks. He only had 10 field goals attempted though.
The bench, once again creeping up in minutes, was excellent though. They were part of the major push in the first half and stabilizing things in the second half. Gorgui Dieng made the most of his minutes with 10 points, seven rebounds, three assists, one steal and two blocks. His only two made field goals were 3-pointers, and he went 4-of-4 from the line.
Wiggins once again saw fewer minutes in the fourth quarter, but he showed some signs of breaking out of his shooting slump, going 8-of-17 for 17 points. His shot selection was still his normal, questionable self though. That’s likely not going to change any time soon.
For the third game in a row the Wolves were a net positive in the fourth quarter, and this entire month they have been dramatically improved over their November fourth quarter play.
Going into December, the Wolves ranked last in the NBA in fourth quarter net rating and a putrid -15.4. Today the Wolves have climbed to 27th overall with a -7.4 net rating, fueled by a 9.4 net rating in December, which ranks as the sixth best.
There are a number of other areas the Wolves have to improve, but cleaning up the fourth quarter has helped lead them to a 7-4 December record. Slowly but surly this team is showing more signs of being a legitimate playoff team. This has been the best start to a season since the 2003-04 season.