The Minnesota Timberwolves hosted the shorthanded San Antonio Spurs Wednesday night at The Target Center, as the Wolves were on the national stage once again. The Spurs were on their 1st game of their annual Rodeo road trip, having gone 10-0 over their last 10 games, and were without Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili. The Wolves all too familiar with playing shorthanded, were down yet another player as Andrei Kirilenko missed the game with a thigh bruise. Michael Gelabale would get his 1st start in place of AK.
Joining Gelabale in the starting lineup would be Nikola Pekovic, Derrick Williams, Luke Ridnour and Ricky Rubio. The Spurs started Tiago Splitter, Boris Diaw, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker. Even without Duncan and Ginobili the Wolves knew they would have their hands full with the Spurs. Ricky Rubio started the game the same as he has over the last 3 contests, with energy and the same swagger he was playing with last season. Ricky’s intensity seemed to be back also, as he picked up another technical, this time from Joey Crawford as Ricky thought he should have gotten a call on a non-foul call. The Wolves, just as we have seen many times this season, started with great ball movement. They had 5 assists on their first 6 field goals to start the game. Throughout the first quarter the Wolves defense was limiting the Spurs the driving lanes they like so much, and forced them into 38% shooting from the floor as a result of it. The Wolves conversely managed to shot 40% from the floor and 2-2 from 3 to hold a 23-21 lead after 1 quarter.
Going into the 2nd quarter the Wolves still had Pek and Gelabale on the floor with JJ Barea, Alexey Shved and Dante Cunningham. The shorthanded Spurs fully went to the bench in the 2nd quarter, with Gary Neal, Stephen Jackson, Matt Bonner, Dejaun Blair and Nando De Colo. Without Kirilenko, head coach Rick Adelman was forced to play some interesting lineups, and play some players more than he normally would, like Pek playing the first 15:30 of the game. When Pek came out of the game in the 2nd quarter the Wolves held a 29-27 advantage. As is always the case, with Ricky out of the game, the ball movement stopped. The Wolves only had 2 assists in the 3 minutes Ricky was off of the floor and only scored 5 points. Halfway through the 2nd quarter, neither team held a lead larger than 5 points. With 3:25 left in the 2nd quarter the Wolves were having one of those rare games and were 3-4 from 3 and led 39-37. Luke checked back into the game with the Wolves holding the 2 point advantage and over the next 3:25 the Spurs went on a 10-2 run to take a 47-41 lead into the halftime break.
The Wolves were able to out rebound the Spurs 36-30 in the first half. The Spurs clearly were missing Duncan in the middle as was evident in the rebounding advantage the Wolves were able to maintain. Luke was a -7 in the 1st half. As has been the case a few times over the last month, Luke has struggled offensively and since he isn’t known as a defensive specialist, he is hurting the team over long stretches of games. After starting the game with 5 assists half way through the 1st quarter, they only managed to get 3 more through the next quarter and a half. Not only did the ball movement stop, but the Wolves also had 7 turnovers over the same quarter and half span after only 3 when compiling up the early 5 assists. The Wolves saving grace in the opening half was their free throw shooting, where they were 10-11 to start.
Both teams started the 2nd half with the same 5 they started the game with. The Wolves managed to “Hang” in there throughout the early portions of the 3rd quarter. With 8:21, the Wolves closed the gap to 1 with a big 3 from Gelabale. The Wolves defense fended off attack after attack by the Spurs offense, and as was the case in the 1st half, the Spurs lead never got larger than 5 points half way through the 3rd. The Wolves continued having problems with turnovers, as they had 3 more over the first 5 minutes of the quarter. It seemed like the Spurs might start to pull away with 5:15 left in the quarter as they extended the lead to 7, but just as the Spurs kept attacking, the Wolves kept fighting back and went on a 4-0 run to pull it within 3, 61-58. The Wolves defense continued to play outstandingly in the closing minutes of the 3rd and tied the game up with 2:30 on a big Derrick Williams 3. Ricky gave the Wolves back the lead, 64-63, after hitting 1 of 2 free throws. Just as the Wolves seemed to be gaining traction Danny Green was left open on the wing and made the Wolves pay, by hitting a big 3 to close out the 3rd with the Spurs leading 68-64.
The Wolves entered the 4th quarter doing something that Wolves fans haven’t often seen this season, making 3 point basket. The Wolves hit 3 of 4 attempts to tie the game up at 75 with 8:38 to play. The Wolves were able to take a 79-77 lead with 7:21 remaining on a big Gelabale pull up jumper in transition. Just as was the case in the 3rd, anytime the Wolves seemed to be gaining momentum, the Spurs would hit the timely shot. San Antonio converted on their next 3 possessions to take an 85-79 lead with 5:52 to play in the 4th. The Wolves countered with 4 points of their own over their next 2 trips up the court to get it back to 88-85 with 3:18 left. The Wolves were just not able to take advantage of opportunities in their next possession, missing on 3 attempts only to have the Spurs grab the rebound and convert on the offensive end. Just as is the case with the Spurs, they hit the shots when it matters and scored on their next 3 offensive possessions to make it a 96-87 game. The Wolves couldn’t overcome the timely shooting of the Spurs as San Antonio hung on to win their 11th straight by a final of 104 – 94.
Ricky had 10 assists on the night, and if it wasn’t for his contribution, the Wolves would have only had 5 assists as a team.
Only having been the case a few times this season, when the Wolves can hit 3 point shots, it completely changes the game. It forces teams to quit crowding the paint. Once the paint opens up, it allows Ricky to truly do what he does best, create easy shots for his teammates by probing the lane.
The Wolves were able to out rebound the Spurs 49 – 41, and had 12 offensive boards.
The Wolves will close out their 6 game home stand on Friday night against the Knicks with a 7 pm tip.