MINNEAPOLIS — Despite playing without their leading scorer and treating the basketball like a hot potato, the Phoenix Suns defended and rebounded their way to a resilient road victory.
The Suns overcame 27 turnovers to grind out a hard-fought 108-106 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday night at Target Center.
With Devin Booker still sidelined, Phoenix helped itself with another dominating performance from its bench.
One game after putting up 55 points on the Toronto Raptors, the Suns’ reserves outscored Minnesota’s bench 69-20, led by 17 points apiece from Dragan Bender and Troy Daniels, 15 points from Isaiah Canaan and 12 points and a career-high 19 rebounds from Alex Len.
“I kept saying, ‘Do we need to give them a rest? Do we need to give them a rest?’” Phoenix coach Jay Triano said of his backups. “We used our timeouts to kind of give them a rest, and I thought they were great at both ends and spread the floor. I think they went 11-for-17 from (3-point range), the bench players. It was great effort by all of them, and they seemed to have a nice connection.”
Karl-Anthony Towns led Minnesota with 28 points and 11 rebounds for his league-leading 24th double-double of the season, while Taj Gibson added 18 points and 10 rebounds. Point guard Jeff Teague scored 17 to go with eight assists, and Tyus Jones led Minnesota’s reserves with 10 points.
The Suns led 103-98 with 3:33 to play, but consecutive baskets by Jimmy Butler, Teague and Gibson put Minnesota back on top by one with 1:22 to go.
A pair of TJ Warren free throws restored the Phoenix lead, but another Butler basket from Teague made it 106-105 with 50.4 seconds left.
What looked to be a shot-clock violation by Phoenix with 6.1 seconds remaining was reviewed, and it was determined Canaan was fouled in the act of shooting beyond the arc. Canaan made all three free throws to give the Suns a 108-106 lead.
“When I got fouled, I knew I was going to make them,” said Canaan, who made his Phoenix debut Saturday after signing with the Suns earlier in the week.
After a pair of inbounds plays, Butler’s baseline jumper rimmed out at the buzzer.
The Suns outrebounded Minnesota 52-31, a figure that surprised Towns.
“They did a good job of boxing out, especially at the end of the game,” Towns said. “On the court it didn’t feel like they were up on the rebounding battle, but obviously they made key rebounds when they needed to.”
The Timberwolves’ season-long fourth-quarter struggles came back to bite them again. Minnesota built double-digit leads in each of the first three quarters, but the Suns responded with big runs to narrow the gaps at each break.
“We didn’t close the quarters out well,” Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Each quarter we had a problem. And then the rebounding was problematic. That was probably the biggest thing. Every time we got up double digits, we let them back in, giving them a second and third shot.”
Phoenix trailed by as many as 15 in the third quarter but Canaan scored eight of his 15 points in the third while Daniels added eight of his own in the quarter.
“You saw what happened. We gave the game up,” Towns said. “We gave it away about three times in the game, and we couldn’t pull it out at the end.”
Phoenix turned the ball over a whopping 19 times in the first half but trailed only 50-42 at the break. Minnesota scored 19 points off those turnovers and turned the ball over only three times in the half, but the Timberwolves were hindered by shooting a meager 36.5 percent and only 3 of 16 from 3-point range.
Minnesota led 50-35 with 1:47 to go in the half before Phoenix closed with a 7-0 run.
“My only comments at halftime, ‘Take care of the ball and we’re in the ballgame,’” Triano said. “It’s within reach right now and we’ve given them, what was it, (19) at half? So, it’s tough, but we played defense long enough to clean it up a bit.”
NOTES: Minnesota F Nemanja Bjelica was inactive Saturday, the 12th straight game he has missed with a sprained left midfoot. ... Phoenix G Devin Booker missed his fifth consecutive game because of a left adductor strain sustained Dec. 5 at Toronto. ... With his 239th career 3-pointer Saturday, F Andrew Wiggins tied Ryan Gomes for ninth on the Timberwolves’ all-time list. ... The Timberwolves conclude their five-game homestand Monday when they host the Portland Trail Blazers. ... Phoenix travels to Dallas on Monday for the second contest of its three-game road trip.