It was an admirable effort by the Timberwolves, but in the end, the Spurs showed their class and won going away, 122-114.
There are a lot of things we could focus on tonight: A defense that gave up 122 points and over 50 percent shooting, an offense that scored 114 on nearly 50 percent themselves, the Wolves inability to cope with Kawhi Leonard, the role fatigue played as Tom Thibodeau once again rode his starters for heavy minutes, you name it.
But let’s start with the turnovers, which killed the Wolves, especially in the third quarter as their tenuous lead disappeared under a hail of mis-handlings that led to baskets at the other end. The Wolves turned it over 18 times in all tonight, eight in the third quarter alone, while the Spurs only coughed it up seven times. Turnovers are perhaps the best example of the relative callowness of the young Wolves going up against a veteran Spurs squad: multiple instances of poor decision-making, high-risk plays, and losses of concentration plagued the Wolves, something that simply does not happen to the Spurs.
It was a fantastic first half for the Wolves, at least offensively, as they took a 71-67 lead to the locker room. That lead was fueled by Karl-Anthony Towns going to work inside and out, Shabazz Muhammad exploding for 15 first half points off the bench, and Ricky Rubio living at the free-throw line. The Wolves as a whole took huge advantage at the line, making an incredible 29-30 in the first half. Unfortunately and predictably, they only had 11 attempts in the second, as the Spurs tightened up defensively.
Meanwhile, the Wolves defense could not consistently do anything with LaMarcus Aldridge, who finished with 29, mostly scored in the paint as opposed to his mid-range game. He was establishing good position against the Wolves bigs and finishing over them for most of the night.
And then there is Kawhi Leonard, who utterly dominated this game, especially in the second half. This is just a brutal match-up for Andrew Wiggins, (as it is for most small forwards in the league,) as Leonard torched the Wolves at both ends of the floor. His 34 was on an array of mid-range jumpers, transition finishes, three pointers, and everything else, while also rendering Wiggins essentially invisible.
I do wonder if fatigue was a factor, especially during stretches of the second half, when it appeared that tired minds were making poor decisions leading to many of the turnovers that changed the game, and shots that were going in earlier in the game started bouncing off iron. Once again Thibs went with only eight players, and one of them, Kris Dunn, played only nine minutes. All of the starters except Gorgui Dieng played at least 35, with Towns going for 43, Rubio 39, and Wiggins 38. Meanwhile, Gregg Popovich played all 13 guys on his active roster, and ten were in double-figures in minutes.
In the end, the Spurs are just a better, deeper, more experienced team, and eventually they wore down the Wolves in a second half where they turned up the pressure and the Wolves simply didn’t have answers. Sometimes the other team is just better than you.
Let’s do some notes:
- Gorgui Dieng had a quality outing I thought—17 points, six boards, and four blocks, and did a creditable job protecting the rim.
- Ricky Rubio had his fifth straight game with double-digit assists, finishing with 14 to go along with 21 points. He was outstanding at getting himself to the free throw line, and it was pretty clearly his intent once he realized Wiggins wasn’t going to be able to score.
- I find the trade rumors mind-boggling when Thibs, who is heavily invested in Kris Dunn, still understands he has to have Rubio out there to give them a chance to win.
- Karl-Anthony Towns was terrific, finishing with 27 and 16, but also added five turnovers, several on plays in which he passed up open shots to drive into traffic. He needs to clean that up.
- I’m not a big Brandon Rush believer, but man, what’s a guy got to do? Three minutes in Dallas and a DNP-CD after his run last week? That’s tough.