MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Hours before Phoenix completed its biggest comeback of the season, coach Jeff Hornacek said the Suns needed to approach each remaining game as their last if they wanted to make the playoffs.
The Suns played more desperately than Minnesota on Sunday and inched closer to the Western Conference’s final playoff spot. They also delivered a serious blow to the Timberwolves’ fading postseason hopes.
Markieff Morris scored 25 points as the Suns overcame a 22-point deficit and a near triple-double by Kevin Love to beat the Wolves 127-120 and move within a half game of eighth-place Memphis.
“We’ve had a few of those, haven’t we?” Hornacek said. “I’m always proud of the way they come back at the end of games, they never give up. We were playing horribly for a half, maybe partway into the third quarter and somehow they ended up pulling that game out.”
While Hornacek lamented his team’s tendencies to start slow, the Suns were fortunate the Wolves — who fell six games behind Phoenix — have a habit of starting strong before fading. Now the Suns are hoping the Wolves’ psyche can recover in time to put up big points again when they play at Memphis on Monday. Phoenix, meanwhile, continues its road trip in Atlanta.
“If we want to be contenders and be in the playoffs, we got to start showing it by winning these kind of games,” P.J. Tucker said. “We came out and played in the second half.”
Phoenix’s bench outscored Minnesota’s 61-20, and the Suns shot a season-high 57 percent from the floor to overcome Love’s 36 points and 14 rebounds. The Wolves’ All-Star forward fell an assist short of a triple double and committed a crucial turnover in the final minute.
With the game tied at 118, Love lost the ball in the paint and Eric Bledsoe made a fast-break layup. Gerald Green, Bledsoe and Tucker each hit a pair of free throws in the closing seconds.
“If we start out the game like that we’d probably be up 20,” Bledsoe said.
The Suns tied a season high by allowing 41 points in the first quarter and trailed 103-93 heading in the final period, but they outscored the Wolves 34-17 in the fourth. Minnesota, meanwhile, blew its largest lead of the season.
“That was our playoffs right there, and we lost. So this one hurts a lot more than the others,” a visibly frustrated Love said.
The Wolves scored a season-high 73 first-half points — they needed every one of them because the Suns shot 61 percent and still found themselves trailing by 11 at halftime.
Minnesota built its early lead thanks to a 14-0 first-quarter run fueled by a balanced offense. Every Wolves player who checked in scored. But Morris shot Phoenix back into the game with 15 points in the second quarter on 6 for 8 shooting.
“We should’ve won that game, plain and simple,” Love said.
Phoenix has won five of its last six. Bledsoe had 21 points for the Suns, Tucker had 19 and Goran Dragic 18.
The Suns won for only the fifth time when trailing after three quarters.
“I’m so tired of doing that,” Tucker said. “We get 20-25 down and it’s like, ‘let’s play.’ It’s unreal.”
Notes: Kevin Martin had 25 points for the Wolves. . The officials hit Phoenix with four technical fouls, including one on assistant coach Mike Longabardi. . Crews scrambled to prepare the court after Target Center hosted the National Collegiate Hockey Conference championship game Saturday night. They didn’t have enough time to remove the ice, so they constructed the court above it for Sunday’s game. . Wolves G J.J. Barea scored two points in his first game since spraining his left foot in Thursday’s loss to Houston. Barea was questionable heading into the game but told coach Rick Adelman he felt better after warming up Sunday. . The Wolves have scored 30 points in the first quarter five straight games.
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