Jaden McDaniels scores 25 to carry Timberwolves over Suns and take 2-0 series lead

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards celebrates after making a 3-point shot during the first half of Game 2 of the team's NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Phoenix Suns, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in Minneapolis. (Abbie Parr/AP Photo)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Jaden McDaniels scored 25 points for a career-best in the playoffs and spearheaded another stifling defensive performance by the Minnesota Timberwolves in a 105-93 victory over the Phoenix Suns to take a 2-0 lead in their first-round series on Tuesday night.

Mike Conley and Rudy Gobert each had 18 points for the Wolves to offset a smothering of Anthony Edwards by the Suns, who held him to 15 points on 3-for-12 shooting after allowing him 33 in the opener.

The teams head to Phoenix for Game 3 on Friday night. Minnesota has held a 2-0 series lead only one other time in franchise history, against Denver in the first round in 2004 en route to a 4-1 series victory.

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“Everyone down the list has shown they’ll be willing to do whatever it takes to sacrifice whatever it is for the betterment of the team,” said Karl-Anthony Towns, who had 12 points.

Devin Booker scored 20 points, Kevin Durant added 18 and sixth-man Eric Gordon had 15 for the Suns, who again failed to get their high-octane offence in gear.

“When they’re scoring on us and we’re not getting the right stops, we can’t not be organized offensively,” Suns coach Frank Vogel said. “We had too many possessions like that.”

The big three of Booker, Durant and Bradley Beal combined to shoot 18 for 45, with McDaniels leading the list of reasons for the slump.

“We can see it. I can feel it. I can see them. It’s tough,” Gobert said. “No one likes going against the type of defence that we’re playing right now.”

After building an eight-point lead in the second quarter and taking a 51-50 edge into halftime, the Suns wore down while Towns got going after early foul trouble.

Phoenix lost guard Grayson Allen to an aggravated ankle sprain in the third quarter. Minnesota’s momentum carried into the fourth quarter, and the crowd noise came with it. Conley found Gobert with a bounce pass off the pick-and-roll for an easy slam and an 84-76 lead the Wolves later extended to 19 points before the 17-year veteran point guard swished a corner 3-pointer that electrified the arena.

The “Wolves in 4!” chant popped up in the final minutes.

“The building’s been amazing. The fans have been unreal,” coach Chris Finch said. “Our guys have risen to their energy, and we were locked in from the start.”

The Wolves used a heavy dose of Edwards on the attack to deliver a 25-point win in Game 1 on Saturday, and the Suns never hesitated to send multiple defenders swarming into his space.

The Timberwolves had trouble making them pay, shooting 9 for 32 from 3-point range. The bench production that helped them dominate the opener waned a bit. The whistles were tighter this time, leading to a costly three-foul first quarter for Towns that kept him out until halftime.

But McDaniels, Gobert and anyone else wisely attacked the basket with abandon, making sure the Wolves could use their size advantage inside.

They passed their test of maturity, too. Booker slammed his forearms into McDaniels after a stray elbow, triggering McDaniels into an ill-advised shove that drew him a technical foul. But the fiery 23-year-old, who missed the 2023 first-round series against Denver with a broken hand after punching a wall out of frustration during the final regular season game, didn’t let that define his night.

“Everyone on the team does a good job helping me manage emotions and stuff like that,” McDaniels said. “It’s a physical game. There’s nothing serious between us. Sometimes things happen.”

McDaniels even crashed the boards at the constant urging of his coaches, using his high-flying 6-foot-9 frame to grab eight rebounds. Finch deadpanned that he’d been harping on McDaniels to do so for the last “250 games,” and the staff put him through football-style drills in practice during the week to get him in character.

Jusuf Nurkic (10 points, 14 rebounds) helped negate some of Gobert’s award-winning and shot-altering defence. After the Timberwolves set a franchise playoff record with a plus-24 rebounding margin, the Suns had a 41-39 edge, but progress was elusive beyond that.

“Don’t count us out,” Booker said. “It’s a series for a reason.”

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