The San Antonio Spurs and their NBA-best record were at Target Center on Tuesday night, sans Tony Parker.
The Wolves didn’t feel too badly, of course, playing without Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Martin, Shabazz Muhammad, and Chase Budinger. Even without a host of key rotation players, Minnesota came out of the gate with energy and was able to build a 27-19 lead by the end of the first quarter.
Ricky Rubio scored 9 points in the opening frame, and started his night off with a trio of mid-range jumpers in rhythm. Patty Mills and Cory Joseph, both playing heavy minutes in place of the injured Parker, stood no chance in staying in front of the Spaniard and Rubio was able to get to the rim with ease, especially after establishing his jumper early in the contest.
After a small hiccup early in the second quarter, the Wolves finished the first half strong. Corey Brewer hit a corner three-pointer at the buzzer off of a beautiful assist by Rubio, and the home team was able to take a 54-34 advantage into the break.
The third quarter and opening minutes of the final frame consisted of more domination by the Timberwolves, as Rubio diced the inferior Spurs back court, and Gorgui Dieng and Kevin Love controlled the paint. Neither Wolves’ big man shot the ball particularly well, but they were impressive on the glass and a number of their misses were of the contested tip-in variety.
Other than a small blip in the middle of the fourth quarter with all of the Wolves’ starters on the bench during which the Spurs actually got to within 14 points, this game was never really in doubt. It just seemed like it, given the opponent, of course, but it was a game that felt in hand fairly early in the second half.
The Wolves defense was very good, but the Spurs also missed a number of semi-open jumpers that they would normally convert. Additionally, Manu Ginobili played just 15 minutes before leaving the game due to a calf contusion. Ultimately, Tim Duncan played just 20 minutes, shooting 4 of 11 from the field.
As mentioned, Rubio was spectacular, shooting 10 of 17 from the floor and scoring 23 points, along with 7 assists, 2 rebounds, 1 steals, and 2 turnovers in 34 minutes. Love put up 19 points, 12 rebounds, and 4 assists in 33 minutes despite shooting just 5 of 15 on the night.
Dieng shot just 4 of 15 himself, but played a very impressive game. He caught the ball well on the pick-and-roll from Rubio, and easily could have taken more than five free throw attempts on the night if the officials had called contact in the lane with any reasonable consistency. He was a monster on the glass, and finished with a game-high 15 rebounds to go along with his 12 points.
Over the last four games, the Wolves have beaten the Memphis Grizzlies at home, the Miami Heat in double-overtime on the road, and the 60-win Spurs at home. They also lost to the lowly Orlando Magic, but it was on the road, the second night of a back-to-back, and Kevin Love (among others) didn’t play.
It’s been an impressive run for a team that is out of the playoff picture. In the past, we’ve seen the Wolves wilt down the stretch in April with nothing to play for, and it’s refreshing to see the opposite happening this year. Tomorrow night is a tough home on a back-to-back against the Chicago Bulls, but it would be another nice victory.