MINNEAPOLIS — There were moments Monday when the Minnesota Timberwolves slowed down the frantic Suns, downshifted the pace and reduced it to a half-court slugfest where they could fight on a level court.
But when the Suns wriggled free and stomped their gas pedal to the floor, you could smell the burning rubber in the Target Center.
Showing all the facets of his ever-evolving game, Boris Diaw produced a career night with 31 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and a solid defensive effort against Minnesota star Kevin Garnett.
But the Suns still needed a fourth-quarter shooting explosion by reserves James Jones and Eddie House to nail down a 103-89 win over the Timberwolves beginning this five-game road trip with a strong statement.
"We want to win all five and you can't do that until you win the first one," said House, who made only three shots but hit two during the crucial run. "We want all of these."
The Suns led by as many as 16 in the third quarter before Minnesota roared back, scoring the first seven points of the fourth and creeping to within 80-77 on a Garnett dunk with 10:13 left. Garnett finished with 26 points and 19 rebounds, teaming with Wally Szczerbiak (27 points) to keep the T-Wolves afloat.
But Jones, 0-for-6 and scoreless to that point, drilled an open 3-pointer — only the fourth for Phoenix to that point. House followed with a 21-footer and another 3 before Jones drilled a 26-foot bomb to give the Suns 11 unanswered points in 1 minute, 42 seconds.
"I got the easiest shots possible," Jones said. "Shawn Marion (21 points, 16 rebounds) hit me with two great passes and in perfect rhythm."
Minnesota called timeout and shuffled to the bench. They could have just kept on walking. "Once that run got to about seven, we knew it was going to be tough for them," said guard Steve Nash, who had 24 points and six rebounds and snapped a string of five straight games with 10 assists or fewer, with 12. "Then, we just kept going . . . we had a lot of good road wins where we did that last year. This one felt like that."
It helped to have Diaw doing a very nice Amaré Stoudemire impersonation in the paint. With Stoudemire at a road game for the first time — and doing TV color commentary — Diaw hit 11 of his 16 shots from the field — dunks, layups, floaters in the lane and even fadeaways. The 68 percent free throw shooter hit all nine of his attempts and rendered a terrible, foul-plagued night by center Kurt Thomas (no points in 16 minutes) null and void.
"Maybe Christmas had something to do with it," said Diaw, a starter again after coach Mike D'Antoni was concerned about his passive play as a reserve in Friday's deflating loss to Washington. "You have to take the shots because the team is looking for you. On this team, everyone looks for everyone. The next game, it might be Steve Nash or James Jones."
The T-Wolves were banking on Diaw repeating his eight-point, three-rebound dud against the Wizards. They got Bizzaro Boris instead.
"We watched that game and he wasn't nearly as effective as he was tonight," said Garnett after Minnesota lost for the sixth time in seven games but kept its lead in the nasty Northwest Division. "When you get a couple of shots to go . . . you could see the confidence growing."
Minnesota wanted to concentrate more on Nash, who was having a field day against every defender coach Dwane Casey threw at him, but Diaw made that impossible.
"He's the same player he was in Atlanta," Casey said of Diaw. "But you put him with Steve Nash . . . he ought to give (Nash) half his paycheck. He really, really makes his life easy."
But Nash feels it's just the opposite.
"We run the pick-and-roll and (they) have a choice how you are going to defend it," Nash said. "Boris takes pressure off me and everyone else when he can play that well. He was making great decisions, and it was just awesome to watch."
The Suns (17.4) and Timberwolves (21.6) are the two worst teams in the NBA at getting to the free throw line. The Suns hit all 17 free throws Monday, while Minnesota was 10 of 14. . . . Minnesota played without center Michael Olowokandi (right elbow) and lost backup Mark Madsen after six minutes when he bruised his back in a collision with Raja Bell. . . .
Suns starters Marion (45 minutes), Diaw (42) and Nash (41) all played heavy minutes to begin the eight-day road trip. “We're just trying to win every game," D'Antoni said. "We'll get IVs in them (today) and worry about that then." . . .
Diaw's previous career high was 20 points.