Frederick: Timberwolves know they need better starts to win series versus Phoenix. That should include winning Game 1

18 April 2024

Timberwolves coach Chris Finch knows Minnesota has essentially been defeated in the first few minutes in each of the team’s two losses this month to Phoenix.

The Wolves went down 15-0 to the Suns in Phoenix at the beginning of the month and trailed 44-22 after the first quarter Sunday at Target Center.

After neither start did the Wolves even remotely recover.

“They’ve just been jumping on us from the beginning. It’s been a variety of issues, turnovers and of course defense the other day, too. You can’t spot a team with that much firepower a 20-point lead,” Finch said. “We’ve just been sloppy out of the gates. And some of it is their doing, for sure, and we gotta address those issues. But it’s just the starts have been just poor.”

Turnovers have been the primary cause of the porous starts. Minnesota had 19 first-half giveaways on Sunday, equaling an NBA record. The Wolves turned the ball over profusely in the other meeting this month, as well.

“That’s all it is, man, because they got tough shot-makers and takers and they’re not going to make them all the time. … We just can’t fuel their offense, we can’t keep giving them open looks. We turn the ball over against them at a high clip in the first quarter every time and give the Beals, the Bookers open looks, open threes,” Anthony Edwards said. “If we’re able to get a shot up. We don’t have to make them all the time. If we get a shot up and not turn it over, and get back and set up our defense, the game is going to be a lot different.”

There are defensive adjustments to make, as well. Minnesota has been caught in difficult matchups. Karl-Anthony Towns didn’t look capable of guarding Grayson Allen on Sunday. Wolves radio voice Alan Horton — who watches many of the practices — told Paul Allen on KFXN-FM 100.3 on Thursday that will not be Towns’ individual matchup. So changes are indeed afoot. Generally, adjustments come after Game 1 of a series.

But after playing Phoenix twice in the past two weeks, the Wolves — who have been armed with a bevy of film featuring what doesn’t work and a number of practice days to implement changes — will present their findings on Saturday.

“I think that’s the advantage we have of playing them twice down the end of the season,” Finch said. “We can look at everything, see what we felt could be the best first start, first step in the playoffs.”

“It feels like we have been playing a mini-series with them already. We’re the team that has come out with the L’s and had to figure out something different and adjust,” Wolves guard Mike Conley said. “That’s maybe to our advantage at this point. We’ve got a lot of different things we can do, so we’ll see what we come up with in the next few days.”

It better be good. Minnesota has not been competitive in three meetings with Phoenix. It knows exactly what issues the Suns present and has had the time and resources necessary to zig or zag to regain an advantage.

“It’s a coach’s dream, really. You get a chance to pick it apart. They’ve given us a body of work to go from, most recently Sunday,” Finch said. “Getting a chance to tear it apart and start putting it back together, come up with some answers, and then over the week you get to kind of install it, so it feels like a football game.”

Also in football, each weekly contest is treated a bit like a do-or-die affair. With Minnesota, it just might be.

If Minnesota is unable to correct course now, there’s little reason to suggest the Wolves will suddenly find the key improvisation as the postseason progresses.

So yes, Minnesota does need better starts — both in the first quarter, and, frankly, in Game 1 on Saturday.

The first game of a best-of-7 series is never a “must-win.” But this is a “must respond” after the Wolves were punched in the mouth by Phoenix throughout the regular season.

If Minnesota’s adjustments laid out all week are ineffective in the series opener, then it’s logical to assume the right ones may not exist. It could be drawing dead. At the very least, it would feel that way. In which case, the Wolves’ postseason aspirations would be in grave peril right as the party was getting started.

For a team that’s struggled out of the gates of late, Saturday’s start — and finish — could very well determine what’s to come.

“I think it’s a very, very important thing to the series, and the game, to get off to a fast start,” Finch said.

Need help?

If you need support, please send an email to [email protected]

Thank you.