After Friday's blowout win over the Charlotte Bobcats, I talked briefly about this matchup with the Spurs in San Antonio. Ultimately I preached that regardless of winning or losing, we needed to show that same cohesiveness that led to that big win.
Did the Wolves do that tonight? Well...sort of. The Wolves' starting unit struggled mightily on offense all night long--the only player who really found success was the big fella that has been on a tear offensively for the past couple months--Nikola Peković. Since shaking off a rusty start to the season, Nikola picked up steam a couple of weeks into the season and hasn't slowed down since.
Minnesota's best player--Kevin Love couldn't get anything going tonight. The last time he visited San Antonio and faced the Spurs, he exploded for 42 points and 14 rebounds. Tonight he was held to a third of that scoring with 14 and held to half that amount on the glass--with 7 boards. Boris Diaw, Tim Duncan, and Jeff Ayres all saw time matched up with Love defensively and they all found a lot of success. Gregg Poppovich wasn't happy with how he scored at will in their previous meeting and it was VERY obvious that Pop put a gameplan in place to take Love out of the game and his squad executed it VERY well (especially in the first half where they held him to 6 points). Love did get things going a bit in the third quarter with 8 of those 14 points. Like the majority of the starters Love sat for a good portion of the fourth quarter as the lead had ballooned and the game fell out of reach.
Beyond Nikola Peković and Alexey Shved, the Timberwolves as a team really struggled to score the basketball and more importantly to do so efficiently. Pek went 10-for-15 from the field and Alexey had one of his best games of the season going 4-for-7 from the field and 3-for-4 from deep. Alexey has been much better these past few weeks on both ends of the floor. It's really nice to see considering how much he struggled early in the season. If I had to guess, I'd say the coaches probably (I'm just guessing) sat him down and told him that with Chase returning, he'd either have to play better or he'd see his playing time dwindle down to only 'garbage time'. Whether that's the case or not, he's responded to something these past few weeks and is playing some great hustle basketball (very energetic).
The Wolves hung tough in this one and didn't allow the Spurs to take a double digit lead until late in the third quarter. Unfortunately after that happened the wheels fell off and instead of sprinting through the finish line the Wolves sputtered to a stop and went out in flames.
The Wolves stayed in the game by forcing turnovers. The Wolves forced San Antonio into 20 turnovers (11 in the first half) and finished with a season-high-tying 16 steals.
Unfortunately Minnesota's effort on defense didn't last a full 48 minutes. There were possessions where it was very clear that they were giving 100% and others where the Spurs would find Marco Belinelli for a wide-open three or Leonard for a dunk or Tony Parker with a slashing layup. The Spurs shot over 56% from the field and near 70% from three. There's absolutely no way that you can expect to win basketball games if you're allowing opponents to shoot those kind of asinine percentages.
Tonight's box score...
Minnesota had one of their lowest rebounding outings of the season. Their 24 defensive rebounds is a season-low and their 40 total rebounds ties the second-lowest total of the year. It wasn't that the Wolves got killed on the offensive boards. The Spurs finished with 7 offensive rebounds, which means that the Wolves grabbed 77% of the available defensive boards. When you allow an opponent to shoot 56.3% from the field, there's not a whole lot of rebounds to corral.
Ultimately you have to take this game with a grain of salt because these Wolves have had some well-documented struggles and I don't think you could've found many who thought we'd come out of this contest victorious (myself included). The important part about tonight's win is to understand that you're not going to win if you don't defend. The offense can be the best in the NBA, but if you can't stop your opponents from scoring you're not going to win. With Ronny & Chase back the Timberwolves are beginning to show that they have a lot of weapons at their disposal that they're still getting integrated into the rotations and familiarized with their teammates. I'm not alone in hoping for a significant Timberwolves winning streak and I really can feel one on the not too distant horizon.
Cody D. Anderson
A Wolves fan bringing you Gameday Recaps all season long!