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Timberwolves rout Suns, one win away from first series win since 2004

PHOENIX — Mike Conley whipped a pass from the top of the floor down to a wide open Naz Reid, who was standing under the hoop. The second he let the ball go, Conley started running down the floor and screaming.

That was the moment this series unofficially ended.

Reid flushed home the dunk to put Minnesota up 22 points in the third. Suns coach Frank Vogel called a timeout and a chorus of boos from the Phoenix faithful echoed through the arena.

All over but the shouting.

Minnesota blew Phoenix’s doors off for the third consecutive game, again pulling away in the third quarter for a 126-109 victory Friday at Footprint Center to take 3-0 series lead.

The Timberwolves now have four chances to secure the fourth victory they need to clinch their first playoff series victory since 2004. The first of those will come Sunday in Phoenix. That will likely be all it takes. No NBA team has ever rallied to win a best-of-seven series when down 3-0.

The Wolves have destroyed the Suns’ will. Every game to this point has played out in the exact same manner, no matter the time or location: The first half is largely competitive as Phoenix fights tooth and nail with the more physical, lengthy, youthful Wolves. Then the Suns reach a point where they simply cannot do it any longer, and the dam breaks.

The Wolves have repeatedly worn Phoenix out.

“There’s points in the game where you feel the momentum swinging and you can feel our energy picking up, and theirs dropping a little bit. And that’s what we try to implement,” said Wolves guard Mike Conley, who tallied 15 points and seven assists on Friday. “We’re going to be a team that’s physical and keep going and going until, hopefully, you get tired out before we do. That’s what we’ve been doing in this series.”

They’ve done so with relentless effort and execution. Defensively, Minnesota’s physicality is too much. Offensively, Minnesota has Phoenix constantly in rotation, so the Suns are chasing the play. Even when that doesn’t result in a Wolves’ bucket, they often beat the then-exhausted Suns to the 50-50 ball and score from there.

Minnesota had nine offensive rebounds Friday that resulted in 14 second-chance points.

Anthony Edwards grabbed a couple of those, just one element of his impressive performance Friday. The guard continued to distribute the way he has all series, but he also found opportunities to deliver his own scoring punches. The 22-year-old finished with 36 points, nine rebounds and five assists.

Edwards told Scott Van Pelt on ESPN after the game: “I just want to kill everything in front of me.”

And, well, the Suns are just about dead.

Minnesota got into foul trouble in the first quarter, as Conley, Reid and Rudy Gobert quickly accumulated two fouls apiece as Phoenix came out of the gates with an offensive aggression not previously seen in the series. The result was 15 free-throw attempts in the first quarter alone in the Suns’ most impressive offensive quarter of the series.

Minnesota not only stemmed the tide, it actually led by two after the first 12 minutes, because the Timberwolves’ offense was equally good. The Wolves scored 34 points in the first, 12 from Edwards and 10 from Karl-Anthony Towns.

“We knew exactly what was coming. We wanted to punch first, take their punch, then punch again. And that’s kind of how it mapped out,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said. “This is a team that you need to dictate terms with. You don’t want to get behind on them because of the way they can shoot the ball. It’s been part of our messaging and points of emphasis that we have to get off to good starts and have to keep our nose in front as best as we can.”

Towns tallied 18 points and 13 rebounds, while Gobert had 19 points and 14 boards.

Six Minnesota players scored in double figures, including Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who tallied 16 points, 12 of which came in the third on the strength of four triples to effectively close out the contest, and likely the series.

Minnesota outscored Phoenix 36-20 in the third quarter.

“Tonight was probably one of the toughest games we’ll ever have to play, just because the emotion they’re going to play with coming back home and being in front of their home crowd. They’ll be ready to go,” Conley said. “We kind of weathered the storm, took the punches and stayed true to ourselves and were able to get a huge win.”

BRIEFLY

Suns guard Grayson Allen missed the game with the right ankle sprain he re-injured in Game 2. … Minnesota’s Kyle Anderson played for the first time since suffering a hip pointer injury in Game 1. He logged eight minutes, finishing with two points, two assists and three rebounds.

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