NBA Playoffs: Suns' much-hyped season all but over after falling behind 3-0 vs. Timberwolves

The Phoenix Suns are one loss away from a first-round exit — and an offseason full of uncomfortable questions.

The Minnesota Timberwolves defeated the Suns 126-109 in Game 3 of their first-round series on Friday, pushing a would-be superteam to the brink of elimination. Game 4 is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. MST in Phoenix on Sunday (ESPN).

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

It was a competitive game for nearly a half, but the Timberwolves had a six-point lead at halftime then proceeded to push it into the 20s in the third quarter. Anthony Edwards again looked like a burgeoning superstar, posting 36 points on 12-of-23 shooting, plus nine rebounds and five assists.

With Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns both posting double-doubles and Naz Reid and Nickeil Alexander-Walker both scoring in double-digits off the bench, it was a classic Minnesota win. And, unfortunately, a classic Phoenix loss at this point.

Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal all posted more than 20 points, but only one other player, Eric Gordon, scored in double digits. The Suns were already missing Grayson Allen, then had remaining starters Royce O'Neale and Jusuf Nurkic combine for three points on 1-of-8 shooting.

A win on Sunday will set the Timberwolves up against the winner of the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference semifinals. The Nuggets also hold a 3-0 lead in that series.

Let's talk about Durant for a minute.

The 35-year-old is a no-doubt, first-ballot Hall of Famer who spent a decade as one of the five best players in the NBA. He turned the Golden State Warriors into an inevitability, until injuries to him and Klay Thompson derailed everything in 2019.

When Durant opted to leave the Warriors for the Brooklyn Nets, he brought Kyrie Irving with him, and later brought James Harden to town. The result was a team that looked elite at times and was a literal foot from reaching the Eastern Conference finals. Then it all fell apart, as internal friction led to Harden demanding a trade and injuries lowering a ceiling that was supposed to be limitless.

The Nets got swept in the 2022 playoffs and eventually agreed to blow it all up by trading Durant to the Suns. The idea sounded very feasible, because Durant is one of the most malleable stars the NBA has ever seen. He is a near 7-footer who can guard the perimeter and an elite isolation scorer who can also torture teams with off-ball movement and catch-and-shoots.

Combining Durant and Booker was supposed to make the Suns elite. Instead, they convincingly lost to the Denver Nuggets in the playoffs last season, after defeating a Los Angeles Clippers team missing Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

The Suns responded to that disappointment with some curious decisions. They fired head coach Monty Williams, who had led the team to the NBA Finals two years prior. And they opted to swap out Chris Paul and a bevy of draft picks for Beal, who failed to turn the Suns into anything special.

Phoenix Suns guard Bradley Beal (3) and forward Kevin Durant watch a free throw during the second half of Game 3 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Friday, April 26, 2024, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
The Suns assembled three All-Stars with Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal. They didn't have much else. (AP Photo/Matt York)

It's not exactly Beal's fault that the Suns looked no better this year. The team's output just didn't match its theoretical firepower on offense and wasn't equipped to defend the better teams in the West. Against the Timberwolves, their bench looked even shorter and their iso-heavy offense just wasn't the answer. They were good, and immediately folded when facing a great team, which is what Edwards seems to have turned Minnesota into.

Unfortunately for the Suns, none of the above is the bad news. The bad news is that Durant, Booker and Beal are all under contract for the next three seasons, and Beal has a no-trade clause.

The Suns will basically have to run it back next season and hope a shuffling of the supporting cast will be enough to unlock their potential. It probably won't be.

Even when Durant was recovering from his Achilles tear, he was still an elite player. He has turned teams into contenders, for at least one season, everywhere he's gone. But he hasn't done it in Phoenix yet, and it will take something special next season to avoid the conclusion that he has finally aged out of the NBA's elite.