12/23 RECAP: Timberwolves Avoid Collapse, Beat Suns 115-106

It almost looked familiar.

The Timberwolves led by as many as 22 points in the first half, and took a 21-point lead into halftime looking determined to put it away early.

But a 37-point third quarter got the Wolves’ lead down to two at one point, and the Suns suddenly looked like they were going to duplicate the comeback they put on at the Target Center a week earlier.

But some big buckets from Jimmy Butler – who finished with 32 points on 19 shots and 12 free-throw makes – helped keep the Wolves’ collective heads above water in the third, and put it away in the fourth.

Thankfully, not only did Butler get help from his teammates, one of them was badly in need of a big game.

Andrew Wiggins was the team’s second-leading scorer, and hit on 8 of 17 from the field. This came after a stretch where Wiggins was shooting under 35 percent from the field, and under 15 percent from 3-point land.

It was reported by Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune that personal skills coach Drew Hanlen was in town to visit the struggling Wiggins, and potentially check some video with him. It’s unclear if he actually worked on his shooting mechanics in-person.

Wiggins’ performance was especially big considering the less influential performance from Jamal Crawford. After hitting his first few buckets – including a 3-pointer – he only managed to knock down one more field goal near the end of the first half.

But other than Crawford, the bench managed to match Phoenix’s, and even outplay them at certain points.

Tyus Jones had some nice moments on both ends of the floor, and played well with Gorgui Dieng to help add to the lead the starters built.

But when the starters came back into the game, it almost looked like the disaster that occurred at the Target Center on Dec. 16. 

In that game, they gave up 66 second-half points and blew a 15-point lead, all in their fancy new neon green uniforms.

In the third quarter, the starters – wearing white this time – gave up 37 points in the third, and looked like it would be more of the same.

Thankfully, the Wolves clamped down in the fourth, went on a 12-0 run, and managed to keep their distance late.

The Suns did pull the game back five-point margin, but the Wolves managed to win it with free throws in the final seconds.

This ends the season series with the Suns, and is likely to be considered one of the stranger ones they’ll look back on when this season is over. In every contest, the Wolves were considered the superior team; in two of those contests, Devin Booker – the team’s best player – was injured. They still lost one of them.

But they’re still fourth in the Western Conference, and within striking distance of San Antonio for that third slot. They just hit the 20-win mark in before Jan. 1 for the first time since the 2003-04 season.

Despite the weird season series with an inferior Suns team, they still look good.

Going forward – perhaps as soon as their Christmas Day game on TNT against the Los Angeles Lakers – they can use this series as evidence that they aren’t good enough to coast against anyone.

As familiar as Saturday’s third quarter felt, it doesn’t always have to be this way.

Listen to Tim on Wolves Wired!

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