PHOENIX – When owner Glen Taylor fired former coach Tom Thibodeau, he cited a number of losses the Timberwolves suffered under Thibodeau that Taylor felt the Wolves should have won. One of those was a loss the Wolves had to the lowly Suns in December.
If interim coach Ryan Saunders is going to remove that interim tag, he has to win against teams like the Suns.
For the second time in as many games, the Wolves did that in a 118-91 victory at Talking Stick Resort Arena that featured an unusual and entertaining third-quarter altercation between Gorgui Dieng and Devin Booker, resulting in ejections for both. The incident provided a kick for the Wolves the rest of the game, but they had been playing with ample energy the rest of the night, something that was missing in their loss here in December.
“As a team we’re better when we play with the right emotion,” Saunders said. “So we want to make sure to control our emotions in terms of not letting them become negative, but we were playing tougher with things.”
Like on the glass, where the Wolves outrebounded the Suns 64-34 — due in part because the Suns were again without center DeAndre Ayton. Because of Ayton’s absence, Karl-Anthony Towns feasted in scoring 25 points, grabbing 18 rebounds and dishing out seven assists.
But Towns has put up big numbers and the Wolves have still lost. Where Tuesday was different was in the contributions from the rest of the roster, one that is shorthanded because of injuries to Robert Covington, Tyus Jones and Jeff Teague.
Because of Teague’s foot injury, Jerryd Bayless played 28 minutes and finished with a season-high 14 points and seven assists.
Rookie Josh Okogie, who has struggled with his shot at times this season, scored 21 points on 7-for- 11 shooting while providing strong defense on Booker despite having to sit out at times because of foul trouble. He finished with five fouls.
“Josh has all the tools to become and All-Star,” forward Taj Gibson said.
“We just got to be on him a lot more. Sometimes we give him too much leeway because he’s a rookie, but we got to put more pressure on him to do more better things, push him to do better in practice and be on top of him. The sky’s the limit for him.”
Andrew Wiggins also had a strong game with 17 points and nine rebounds, one short of his season high, helping the Wolves overcame a rare quiet night from Derrick Rose, who had just six points in 23 minutes.
The Wolves used a 20-7 surge in the final six minutes of the second quarter to pull away from Phoenix. Towns did as he pleased on the offensive end and his teammates hit their open shots he helped create.
“That’s the greatest thing about our team is we have a lot of faith in each other,” Towns said. “We believe in each other. You can’t fake it.”
The Wolves locker room was upbeat after the game, with several players re-living the altercation between Dieng and Booker, a tiff that got a lot of attention on social media. After Dieng was called for a foul, Booker took a swipe at him and both players were ejected.
“I would like to know why I get ejected,” Dieng said.
They kept jawing at each other as security took them off the floor. It appeared as if they were going to meet each other in the hallway.
“I wanted to just exchange jerseys with him,” Dieng said with a smile afterward.
It was a night where the Wolves could have a little levity. That’s what happens when you do as you’re supposed to against a team you should beat.
wolves 118, phoenix 91
Thu: 9:30 p.m. at L.A. Lakers (TNT)