The San Antonio Spurs lost a game they really needed to win. After their 113-101 defeat to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night, the Spurs are now 6-13 on the season and they’ve lost 10 of their last 11 games. The T-Wolves improved to 10-8 with the win.
The game was tight in the first quarter, with the Spurs holding a two point lead at the end of the period. In the second quarter, the Timberwolves found their footing and started pulling away. At halftime, Minnesota was up 57-47.
San Antonio scratched and clawed their way back into the game. They chipped away in the third quarter before they eventually grabbed a 92-91 lead with six minutes remaining in the game. But then the wheels fell off. Over the next four minutes, the Wolves went on a 15-2 run to put the home team’s dreams of a comeback victory to bed.
This was more of the same for the Spurs. They fell into a hole, climbed out but then couldn’t execute in crunch time. Their issues tonight were exacerbated by the fact that they hit just 5-of-29 three-pointers, while the T-Wolves nailed 18-of-40 three-pointers. That disparity paints some of the picture but the Spurs’ issues are deeper than just having an off shooting night. They’re not showing many signs that this slump is anywhere near over.
Spurs vs. Timberwolves – Final Grades
Offensively, LaMarcus Aldridge was satisfactory but he was dominating the action without involving his teammates much at all. Minnesota wasn’t sending a whole lot of help his way yet San Antonio’s big man wasn’t making them pay. Defensively, he was ineffective. The T-Wolves scored easily when Aldridge was on the court, as he was slow to put a hand up on the perimeter and didn’t do much in terms of defending the paint.
Stats-wise, DeMar DeRozan was fine. He hit half of his shots and only turned it over once. However, his aesthetics weren’t there offensively. He was oftentimes forcing the action in isolation sets. His teammates did a lot of watching while DeRozan tried to operate. Defensively, he was even slower than usual. He didn’t show much fight when going around screens. Most damning, though, was his attitude. DeRozan was frustrated and pouting all game long, which resulted in more than a handful of frustration plays on his part. It’s a broken record but he needs to keep his composure.
The Timberwolves were showing Derrick White maximum disrespect by not defending him at the three-point line. White wasn’t able to make them pay. He looked stiff-legged on his jumpers, didn’t get much lift and was fading backwards most of the time. If White can’t hit wide open threes that other teams are giving him, that kills the offense. He also didn’t look explosive going to the rim at all. Defensively, he looked slow and his inability to jump made him seem smaller than usual. It’s pretty obvious that the foot issue that caused him to miss two games recently is bothering him.
Before hitting a pointless three in garbage time, Bryn Forbes was 0-for-7 from deep. Considering he’s a poor defender who looked small and landlocked against a long and athletic Timberwolves team, that’s not a good combination. Forbes made a couple good passes but he definitely hurt the offense and was a negative on defense.
The good: Jakob Poeltl tallied a season-high five blocked shots, many of which were of the spectacular variety. He did pretty good work on the boards, made a few heady passes and ran the court well. The bad: His perimeter defense against Karl-Anthony Towns was poor. He looked completely out of his element trying to extend his defense to the three-point line. Considering that every Timberwolves player that played was a threat from the perimeter, having Poeltl not comfortable out there wasn’t helping things.
On paper, with the Timberwolves playing so soft on pick-and-rolls, Patty Mills should have had a big game. That didn’t happen. He had his moments on offense but wasn’t looking to take advantage of open spaces often enough. Defensively, he hustled but he was still a liability out there.
Outside of missing all five of his three-pointers, Rudy Gay played quite well. (He’s now shooting a career-low 30.2% on threes this year after shooting a career-high 40.2% on threes last year.) Gay passed the ball well, scored enough to force the Timberwolves to account for him and was a beast on the backboard. The times when the Spurs looked competent on defense, it was usually because Gay was making smart rotations and then eating the defensive glass.
It was still far from pretty but this was a step in the right direction for Dejounte Murray. The good: Murray limited his mistakes on offense, limited his gambles on defense and overall just played a smarter brand of basketball. He had a few smooth shots from about ten feet away when the Timberwolves were daring him to shoot. The bad: Murray at first was passing up shots he needed to take but then eventually started forcing questionable shots. It’s obvious that he’s dealing with confidence issues right now and that has him hesitating in all facets of the game. The bottom line: Murray has to get better and be more assertive but at least he wasn’t the train wreck he was last time out.
Lonnie Walker IV
Far and away, the brightest spot for the Silver and Black tonight was the play of Lonnie Walker IV. He came into the game with four and a half minutes remaining in the third quarter and proceeded to score nine points in the period to help the Spurs fight their way back into the game. He was extremely aggressive on offense, which paid immediate dividends as his energy and determination was a breath of fresh air. Defensively, he might have been even better — it was a far cry from when Pop got mad at him for hiding from Kawhi Leonard. This time, Walker took the challenge of defending Wiggins and did really well. He picked him up in transition and guarded him tightly without unnecessarily reaching in. Walker was easily the Spurs’ best defender on this night. Let us hope that this will catapult the 20-year-old into a spot in the rotation.
After a DNP-CD, Marco Belinelli was back in business against Minnesota. He played seven minutes in the first half and did what he’s being doing this season: missing perimeter jumpers and playing defense in slow motion.
Trey Lyles was aggressive on the boards, had a nice high-low pass to Aldridge … but that was about it. His defense was underwhelming and he wasn’t involved much on offense.
It was frustrating that Pop went back to Belinelli. When is that experiment going to end? DeRozan continues to play too many minutes. The point guard situation is a mess now with White apparently hobbled and Murray’s confidence in shambles. It was nice that Murray and White played together … for a whole minute. Playing Walker sparked the team — and also made it seem like a mistake that he’s been sitting and watching during this prolonged dry spell.
Next Up for the Spurs
Kawhi Leonard, the Los Angeles Clippers and their seven-game winning streak come to San Antonio on Friday night. Given the current status of the Spurs, I’ll be satisfied if the game is close in the fourth quarter. It’s not even realistic to talk about the W word.