KD on fans' boos: Hope it 'ignites' us down 3-0

PHOENIX — The boos trickled down in the third quarter Friday night when the Minnesota Timberwolves began to pull away, just as they had in the first two games of the series. Soon, that trickle became a deluge, and by the end of the quarter, a steady stream of fans poured out of the Footprint Center.

When Game 3 reached its final minutes, most of the sellout crowd had long ago departed into the desert night after their team’s disastrous performance.

The Timberwolves’ wire-to-wire 126-109 win placed the Phoenix Suns, a team that began the season with championship expectations, on the brink of being swept in the first round of the playoffs.

It also placed the Timberwolves one win away from winning their first playoff series since 2004.

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The Suns fans’ displeasure was palpable — and the team, which trailed by as much as 24, certainly heard it.

“They expect so much out of us and they pay their hard-earned money, and they deserve to react how they want to react,” said Suns star forward Kevin Durant, who finished with 25 points. “It’s on us as players to use it as fuel, and hopefully it ignites us for the next game.”

Game 4 is Sunday at Footprint Center.

“I’ve never been swept a day in my life,” said Suns guard Bradley Beal, who scored a team-high 28 points. “I’ll be damned if that happens.”

No team has come back from a 3-0 deficit in NBA playoff history.

“They say nobody’s ever done it before,” said Suns guard Devin Booker, who scored 23 points. “That’s exciting.”

Added Suns coach Frank Vogel: “There’s no quit in our group. This group does not want the season to come to an end.”

The game unfolded in familiar fashion, with the Timberwolves taking control in the third quarter. In that frame, they made seven 3-pointers, matching their most in any quarter of a playoff game in franchise history, and jumped out to a 22-point lead.

As the deficit grew, the Suns again came unglued, surrendering easy looks. Nine of the Timberwolves’ 13 field goal makes in the third quarter were open looks, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Suns, meanwhile, had just eight total makes in the quarter.

Suns fans rained down boos throughout the quarter — “Rightfully so,” Booker would later say — as the Timberwolves built their lead. When Timberwolves guard Mike Conley found Naz Reid for a wide-open dunk with 1:08 left to put the Timberwolves up 95-73, a noticeable number of Suns fans started toward the exits.

In the third quarter this series, the Timberwolves have outscored the Suns by 34 points.

“That third quarter is kicking our ass, ain’t it?” Beal said.

Anthony Edwards led Minnesota with 36 points, and the Timberwolves outscored the Suns in the paint by a 56-36 margin. Minnesota received a balanced effort, with 19 points and 14 rebounds from Rudy Gobert, whose defense flustered the Suns all night. Karl-Anthony Towns added 18 points and 13 rebounds.

The Timberwolves entered the night as the only NBA franchise to never win three straight playoff games at any point, let alone in a series, but that streak is over. The Timberwolves have won only one playoff series, in 2004, when they made it to the conference finals.

The Suns have lost five straight playoff games, tied for their longest losing streak in franchise history.

For Suns fans, the outcome of the series thus far is all the more befuddling because Phoenix trounced Minnesota in all three regular-season meetings.

The Suns’ Big Three of Durant, Booker and Beal have underperformed compared to the high expectations placed upon them. They have shared the floor for 98 minutes in this series, the most by any trio, and the Suns have been outscored by 42 points when all three share the court, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That figure is tied for the worst plus-minus of any three-man lineup this postseason.

To say the Suns’ season has fallen short is an understatement, and their future is uncertain if they fail to complete a historic comeback.

The Suns will enter the offseason with $206 million in salary, the biggest payroll of any NBA team. Over the next two seasons, $312 million alone is committed to Booker, Durant and Beal, whose collective salary next season is higher than the payroll of 14 NBA teams.

“We want this really bad, so it is disappointing,” Vogel said. “It is frustrating. We’re all very invested in this and we’re all pouring everything we have to bring these fans a team they could be proud of, and we feel like we can still do that but we haven’t played well enough in this series.”

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