At the end of a four game trip, the Wolves almost had enough to beat the Spurs and gain a game on the Denver Nuggets, who lost at home to Charlotte tonight.
Desperately hanging on to a lead that was as high as 16, and 12 at halftime, the Wolves eventually could not hold off the Spurs, falling in overtime 97-90. The Spurs turned up the defensive intensity in the second half, holding them to 28 points over the third and fourth quarters after the Wolves scored 53 in the first half by hitting the offensive glass hard and protecting the ball.
The second half was a different story, as Kawhi Leonard began imposing himself on the game. He would finish with 34 points, ten boards, five assists, and most significantly six steals. Especially in the second half, he broke several plays up and forced live-ball turnovers that turned into points at the other end. They also reversed the rebounding advantage the Wolves had in the first half, gobbling up offensive rebounds at key moments that kept their momentum going.
Nonetheless, the Wolves showed fortitude in hanging in the game, holding off the Spurs through most of the second half, and coming back to tie the game after the Spurs took a late lead. Andrew Wiggins did a fantastic job guarding Leonard on the final play of regulation, forcing a tough shot that would not have counted anyway since Leonard could not get it off before the buzzer.
By then, however, the Spurs had momentum and rhythm, and despite a couple of big shots by Ricky Rubio early in the extra period, they were able to pull away. The key play, of course, was a Kawhi Leonard steal from Andrew Wiggins, and his subsequent free throws that put them up four. The Wolves would not score again.
It was another strong defensive performance from the Wolves, who held the Spurs to 40 percent from the field and did a good job especially on LaMarcus Aldridge, who shot only 8-24 and finished with 18 points. They walled up effectively in the paint, and were a bit fortunate that the Spurs three point shooters weren’t making them tonight, but overall it was a feisty and effective performance at that end of the floor.
It’s just that the Spurs are better. They found very few open looks in the second half, and were under 40 percent for the game.
I was disappointed that on a couple of possessions late in regulation, Tom Thibodeau called for Wiggins isolations when he was struggling and being guarded by the best defender in the league. In particular their last possession of the fourth quarter, which ended with a missed Wiggins jumper, seemed poorly thought out.
Nonetheless, they battled the Spurs hard, and had their chances. Not surprisingly, it didn’t quite work out in the end, but the Wolves appear to be starting to put together some consistent performances.
It’s always disappointing to lose, and tough when you have your chances, but it’s hard to complain about the effort. The Spurs are just a little too good. In short, I feel about as OK about this loss as I’m ever going to feel about a loss.
How bout you?
- Ricky Rubio had a triple double tonight—11 points, 10 assists, and an amazing 13 boards. He was all over the glass, and led the team in defensive rebounds with 11. He didn’t shoot well (4-12) and allowed Leonard to jump his passes a couple of times, but it was overall an impressive performance.
- Karl-Anthony Towns finished with 24 and 14, but only scored four after halftime. They really bodied him off his spots in the second half.
- Andrew Wiggins continues to struggle against the Spurs and Leonard, as many guys do. Constantly harassed and bottled up, he shot only 6-24 and saw his streak of 20 point games end as he scored only 17.
- The Wolves got very little from their bench. Nemanja Bjelica had his moments and scored 12 with some nice dimes in 21 minutes despite a tough match up against a very big team, but Shabazz Muhammad was a non-factor, and Kris Dunn and Tyus Jones combined for two points in 24 minutes. They need more.
- Gorgui Dieng was as good as any Wolf tonight—battling on the boards but mostly being a strong defensive presence in the paint.