Timberwolves use reworked defensive assignments and tighter focus to beat Suns in Game 1

Phoenix superstar Kevin Durant scored his signature 31 points in Saturday’s NBA playoffs Game 1, but the Timberwolves held scorers Devin Booker and Grayson Allen to a combined 5-for-19 shooting in a 120-95 decision , just six days after the Suns soundly defeated them at Goal Center.

Allen went 0-for-3, Booker 5-for-16 on the afternoon. Wolves coach Chris Finch shook up his defensive assignments and asked his team to buckle up. He started veteran point guard Mike Conley on Allen and Jaden McDaniels on Booker, while asking the entire team to play more physical and focus on the game plan.

In turn, the Wolves placed the size of Karl-Anthony Towns on Durant and Anthony Edwards on Bradley Beal.

“We just had to play more solidly,” Finch said. “They outplayed us in the games we played against them, so we did that. It showed in the rebounding. We got off to exactly the start we wanted. It set the tone for us.”

The Wolves outscored the Suns 52-28, including 13-3 on offensive rebounds. NBA Defensive Player of the Year candidate Rudy Gobert had six of those thirteen on his own.

“We were ready from the start,” Finch said. “We survived some of their hard shots early, survived some of our turnovers. When they made a little charge on us, we were able to recover

ourselves. Those are some signs of mentally difficult moments.”

After trailing 28-27 to end the first quarter, the Wolves outscored Phoenix 65-44 over the next two quarters on their way to a lead of as many as 27 points in the second half.

“We just fought them,” Finch said. “Booker is dangerous with the ball, Jaden fights through everything. Keeps fighting and fighting. The ball didn’t seem to follow Allen very well, which helped. Mike is very good at those off-ball roles.”

Three-point shooter Allen went 8-for-11 vs. the Wolves and made three threes in Sunday’s game. On Saturday he played 25 minutes and suffered an ankle injury, which X-rays proved negative.

In Sunday’s loss, the Wolves scored 19 goals in the first half and lost 125-106. The Suns won the three-game regular season series 3-0.

On Saturday, the Wolves scored only fourteen goals, six of which were scored by All-Star Anthony Edwards. And at halftime they led 61-51.

“Especially with what happened last week and previous games, we had to take our games to another level,” Finch said. “We wouldn’t have done that. We played good basketball, great basketball at times. Connected, we played hard, played for each other, but we didn’t play desperate basketball, with our chip on our shoulder. That’s what we did early in the season did, when we were tired of establishing ourselves.

“We did a good job of coming out hungry, with something to prove.”