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Everything the Suns said about the Timberwolves this week

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With Game 1 of the first-round series between the No. 6 Phoenix Suns and No. 3 Minnesota Timberwolves rapidly approaching on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. MST, take a look at everything the Suns had to say about the Timberwolves during their two days of practice in Phoenix this week.

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Phoenix swept the regular season series 3-0 over the Timberwolves this year and never led by less than double digits in the second half of any of these three games. The Suns last got a commanding 125-106 win in the season finale on Sunday at Target Center, which ironically had a start time of 12:30 as well.

Minnesota finished the season ranked No. 1 in defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) at 108.4, No. 1 in fewest points allowed per game (106.5) and No. 1 in opponent field-goal percentage (45%).

In three games against the Suns, those numbers dropped to a 123.7 defensive rating (the worst mark for any team this season across 82 games was 119.6), 118.3 points allowed per game and an allowed field-goal percentage of 53.0%.

With Game 1 being in Minnesota, the Timberwolves are 30-11 at home this season, while the Suns boast a road record of 24-17.

On the Team’s Success Guarding Anthony Edwards

Anthony Edwards, who averaged 25.9 points per game this season on 46.1% shooting, only averaged 14.3 points on 31% shooting in the three games against the Suns this year. 

Edwards only attempted seven shots in the season finale (made three), finishing with 13 points.

The 22-year-old Edwards is 2-11 in his career against the Suns.

Grayson Allen: “I think all four guys off the ball that aren’t guarding him, have done a great job of being active in the games we’ve played him. (The off-ball defenders are) showing presence to discourage the drive or muck it up a little bit, get hands in there and deflections, and then they have good shooters too, so still having the urgency to get out to guys and not give up the open 3s are big when you have a guy like that puts pressure in the paint.”

Royce O’Neale: “I feel like (we did a good job of) making things tough for him, try to beat him to spots. Make him take tough shots. On defense, I think we play together as a team, connected, talking. On offense, we just had the ball moving, and guy’s made good shots.”

More from O’Neale on Edwards’ ability to make tough shots: “Just making things uncomfortable for him. He’s a great player. He wants to get to his spot, so we just got to make it hard on him. contest every shot, make things tough for him and play our game.”

Devin Booker on matching up against Anthony Edwards and if it means anything more to him: “It’s the playoffs. It’s just Minnesota versus Phoenix right now. I’d say Ant’s not up-and-coming anymore, he’s somebody that’s here, somebody that had a hell of a season this year, led his team to a top seed in the West. It’s a tough matchup, and it’s going to take a collective whole to slow him down and just try to make him as inefficient as possible.”

On the Team’s Gap Integrity Defensively against Edwards/Wolves

As you can see by the quotes above, the Suns have limited Edwards by not allowing him any driving room at all. The Suns have emphasized a “gap integrity” type of approach when guarding Edwards and a lot of star players.

This means the Suns play a tight shell around Edwards, as defenders play in between their man and the ball if Edwards has it, not allowing him to drive. The Suns have proven really successful in this approach against several teams this season if their communication is on point. Phoenix has also not used one primary defender on Edwards in all three of the previous matchups, but rather shown him several different looks.

Coach Frank Vogel has applauded their evolution in gap integrity this season, mentioning before the Suns’ 97-87 win on April 5 on Minnesota that he saw a big difference in this area when he watched back the Suns’ first win over the Timberwolves, a 133-115 victory on Nov. 15.

Frank Vogel: “I think we all understand the threat that (Edwards) carries, what kind of player he is, but it’s not just about Ant. The gaps are about whoever has the ball. If KAT (Karl Anthony-Towns) or Naz (Reid) or (Mike) Conley or any of those guys are looking to attack the paint, we want to have a heavy gap presence. When the ball moves, we want to fire out of that and contest 3s or prevent 3s. So it’s just part of being a connected, multiple-effort defense. Hopefully, we’re much stronger with those habits today than we were at the beginning of the season.”

Grayson Allen: “You see (the gap integrity) in the film, but then in the game when you hear guys talking behind you, it gives you so much more confidence on the ball, especially guarding (Edwards, who) is very dynamic, he can shot stepbacks, 3s, go right, left, whatever it is. When you know you have the help behind you and someone there in the gap, or there’s a direction you should be pushing him, it gives you much more confidence on the ball to stay in front.”

On Attacking Rudy Gobert

Everyone knows that Rudy Gobert is one of the best defenders in the league, specifically in the paint, as is backed up by his three Defensive Player of the Year awards (could be a fourth this season).

O’Neale and Allen actually played with Gobert on the Utah Jazz, so they are very familiar with him (O’Neale from 2017-2022 and Allen in his rookie season in 2018-19).

So how do the Suns plan on attacking an elite-of-the-elite rim protector?

Grayson Allen: “Defensively, (Gobert) is obviously really good in the pick-and-roll, is a great team defender and he’s great protecting the rim. You try to play away from his strengths and try to get him to move side-to-side. Bring him out on the perimeter a little bit, try to get some switching, whatever it is to get him away from the basket where he’s not as effective.”

Royce O’Neale on what makes Gobert special: “I think his instincts. He has great timing, especially at the rim, blocking shots. I played with him for five years, so just to see him getting better each and every day and every year, I mean that’s a great progression.”

Bradley Beal: “We call (Gobert) a spy. He’s like a defensive spy. It’s like watching Lamar Jackson wherever he goes on the field, (Gobert) kind of does that for their defense. Wherever the ball is, he’s like watching the ball, making sure it doesn’t getting into the paint. Forces us into a lot of tough, contested shots with their lower defender with (Jaden) McDaniels and (Anthony Edwards) contesting guys. They make it very tough. And then you got (Karl Anthony-Towns) in there, who mixes in some size. You got Naz (Reid) and Kyle Anderson and all these guys, these guys are 6-9 and above, so they make it very tough. They make you shoot those tough contested shots, and Rudy’s just a byproduct of it all. It starts with him. He swarms the basket, so he keeps guys from attacking the basket and forces you into a lot of tough, contested jumpers.”

Devin Booker: “(Gobert) has the paint on lock, so (we have to do) the most actions we can do to keep him away from just protecting the paint at all times.”

On Capitalizing on Having 4 Shooters against Minnesota’s 2 Bigs

The Timberwolves like to play two bigs at a time, whether it is Karl Anthony-Towns and Gobert or one of these two with Naz Reid. Their system is to play drop coverage as well.

The Suns, on the other hand, have four shooters in their lineup at all times alongside Jusuf Nurkić or Drew Eubanks.

Vogel is very familiar with the Timberwolves’ style, as he has had plenty of experience using this two-big model, including in his NBA Finals run with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2020 with Anthony Davis and Dwight Howard.

How do the Suns plan to capitalize on the spacing with four shooters against Minnesota’s two-big lineup, and on the flip side, how does it work guarding them?

Frank Vogel: “It’s contrasting styles. I’ve been involved in a lot of those battles on the other side with two bigs. I think with KAT’s ability to shoot the basketball, and Naz Reid’s ability to shoot the basketball, they’re not compromising with spacing the way some of my teams were over the years. They have the offensive firepower of the rest of the league in terms of having 3-point shooting. But the size defensively, they can put a lot of bodies at the rim and make it hard as far as scoring at the rim.”

Vogel on driving ability of Timberwolves: “They’re great drivers. That’s something we are talking about a lot is their ability to put the ball on the floor and the power that they have with how they drive the basketball is a challenge. So, again gap activity, low-man help, doing it as a team.”

Grayson Allen: “It kind of works a little bit both ways. They’re going to try to take advantage of the fact that they have a bigger lineup, and we’re going to try to take advantage of the fact that we can space them out a little bit more. Taking advantage of it offensively with our pace, with our movement, driving and kicking. Trying to get their bigs in positions they’re not used to guarding. And then, defensively being physical, being great on the boards and not letting their size be a problem for us.”

Devin Booker on making Timberwolves’ bigs work: “Ideally, that’s what you want to do, but they also been dealing with that all season, so they know how to build a defense around it. People tried that type offense against them and (Minnesota’s still) been successful, so everything’s just going to be amplified.”

Bradley Beal: “We got to make everybody work. Coach is very adamant about making the best players on the other team really work hard on the defensive end, and that’s KAT and that’s (Edwards), making sure we putting those guys in actions. (Edwards) loves a challenge, so we gonna make sure we keep attacking him. Keep being physical with those guys, but it’s imperative. We gotta keep those guys in motion, keep them in action, keep hitting them. Make it uncomfortable for them, but at the same time, get them off (Booker), get them off (Durant). Those guys are swarming them a little bit.”

Royce O’Neale: “It’s two different styles, two different teams. I mean, playing to our advantage, do what we got to for us to win the game and be successful.”

On Game 1 Being at 12:30

How do the Suns feel about playing in an early game (their second straight) to start the series?

Bradley Beal (had 36 points in season finale vs. Timberwolves, perfect 6-for-6 3-point shooting): “Last time we played at 12:30, I think I did alright. I actually prefer early games, I like early games. Just get it going as soon I wake up, I’m like I know it’s game time. I don’t have to sit and wait all day, but I like it. Obviously (with) the time change, it’ll be a little adjustment, but just got to go out and hoop, man.”

Royce O’Neale: “I just wake up and be myself. I can play at 8 a.m., 9 a.m., 12 p.m., 12 a.m., don’t matter. Just play my game.”

On Rudy Gobert’s Success in the Season Finale against the Suns

Gobert was able to get Jusuf Nurkić in foul trouble in the season finale on Sunday. Gobert took advantage of Nurkić not being on the floor for the final nine minutes of the third quarter, scoring 15 points in the quarter alone on 4-of-5 shooting from the field and 7-of-9 from the free-throw line.

Gobert ended with a team-high 21 points and seven rebounds.

What went wrong for the Suns in terms of defending Gobert?

Royce O’Neale: “I think he was in great position. I mean, when he’s getting dunks, layups. (When we were) trying to make it tough for him, he’s completing and-ones. We just got to take that away from him, not let give him those easy baskets.”

On Timberwolves’ Depth

The Minnesota Timberwolves boast a very strong starting lineup with Conley, Edwards, Jaden McDaniels, Towns and Gobert, but also have some great weapons off the bench in Naz Reid (a Sixth Man of the Year favorite), Kyle Anderson and Nickeil Alexander-Walker that possess their own set of problems. They could also choose to go to Jordan McLaughlin or Monte Morris.

Minnesota had the second-best bench net rating in the NBA this season.

What do the Suns think of the Timberwolves’ depth?

Frank Vogel: “I don’t think that people are talking enough about their supporting players that they have. Their role players are unique. That’s something we take pride in too, we feel good about our guys too. But McDaniels, Alexander-Walker, Naz Reid, all of those guys are tenacious defensively. They can shoot the 3 when double teams come. They’re as big a part of that team’s success as their star players are.”

Booker on Friendship with Karl Anthony-Towns

Devin Booker and Karl Anthony-Towns were both one-and-dones at Kentucky back in the 2014-15 season. Towns was drafted No. 1 overall in the 2015 NBA Draft, while Booker was drafted 13th.

Safe to say, both have made pretty good careers with the teams that drafted them and have still remained close friends throughout.

How does their friendship work this series?

Devin Booker: “The friendship will always be there. It’s competition, so probably won’t talk that much until after the series, probably more than during, but a forever friendship.”

On Not Taking this Matchup Lightly Based on Regular Season Success

Suns ready for ‘dogfight’ with Timberwolves despite regular-season success

Watch: Full Interviews

Stay tuned for another in-depth quote story on the Suns’ thoughts on the playoffs in general.

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Brendan Mau is a senior writer covering the Phoenix Suns and more for Burn City Sports. You can follow him on X via @Brendan_Mau

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