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Spurs 117, Wolves 101: Bench Woes

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The Wolves bench gets badly outplayed by the Spurs’, and LaMarcus Aldridge goes HAM in a dispiriting game in San Antonio.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The Wolves got off to a quick start in this one, leading by as many as nine in the first quarter, thanks to some scrappy defensive effort, some missed shots from the Spurs, and some quick hitting offense through Karl-Anthony Towns, but it soon fell apart, with the Spurs taking control in the second quarter and the Wolves never really looking like a threat to come back in what would wind up a...Spurs win.

As is often the case, the defense and the bench let the team down. Late in the first quarter, the Tom Thibodeau went with a lineup of Derrick Rose, Tyus Jones, Jamal Crawford, Taj Gibson, and Gorgui Dieng. Nemanja Bjelica swapped in for Gibson to start the second. That stretch was the key part of the game, as the Spurs blew past the Wolves and their porous perimeter defense, and the Wolves had no real answer offensively.

Since Rose joined the team and entered the rotation, Thibs has gone to this lineup in all three games, and it’s a catastrophe. Absolute coaching malpractice to have that group out there—way too small, and way too slow, not a winning combination. It simply isn’t good enough, and the Spurs absolutely decimated it tonight.

LaMarcus Aldridge also found his rhythm in the second quarter, pouring in 18 points in the frame on a series of post-ups and mid range jumpers that the Wolves had no answer for. He would finish the game with 39 points, absolutely dominating anyone trying to guard him. Overall, it was just an awful quarter for the Wolves, who were outscored 38-26 and never really recovered.

The second half was an exercise in futility, with the Wolves occasionally making brief runs, cutting the lead to six at a couple of points, but their inability to string together a series of stops meant that the Spurs were consistently able to establish breathing room each time the Wolves made a run at them.

Mostly this game was about depth. The Spurs, who have struggled this year without the star power of Kawhi Leonard, still have guys coming off the bench they can rely on. Tony Parker. Pau Gasol. Rudy Gay. Manu Ginobili had a big night tonight. The Wolves simply do not have that level of talent in reserve, and it showed. Their own star was merely OK by his own standards, and nobody was willing or able to pick up the slack. Once the waves started for the Spurs, there was no holding it back.

Every game is so vital as the season winds down and playoff spots up for grabs that a night like tonight is a real letdown. Losses will come, but the obvious flaws being exploited by a team the Wolves are competing with is tough to watch.

Especially with the Rockets up next, tomorrow night.

NOTES

  • Usually I can find one individual performance to single out for praise, but it just felt like tonight, everyone was pretty meh.
  • Thought the effort was good to start, but they were flat once the Spurs made their run in the late first/early second. Disappointing.
  • What has happened to Gorgui Dieng? He’s barely playable at this point, on either side of the ball.
  • It’s coaching malpractice to play Jones-Rose-Crawford together. Brutal. Thibs cannot keep doing this. Tonight, those three were -10, -21, and -14 in 16, 15, and 21 minutes respectively. Disaster. When Rose entered the game late in the first, putting all three on the floor, the Wolves were up seven. When Jones checked out after four minutes of game time, they were down 3. -10 for that group in four minutes. The Wolves never led again.