The Big Three’s vintage night and the play that changed the game
It’s a shame we had to wait an extra week and half for these two teams to meet for the first time this season, but man, was it worth it. The Spurs beat the Timberwolves 117-110 in a Friday night barnburner, and they did so on the back of a classic performance from the Big Three. Again.
Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili combined for 61 points, 23 assists and 21 rebounds, and they overcame a monster 42-point, 14-rebound performance from Kevin Love in one of the most entertaining fourth quarters in recent memory. Ginobili scored 16 of his 20 points and dropped four of his nine dimes in the final 12 minutes — he played the entire fourth — and Parker went for 12 points and two assists of his own in the same stretch.
San Antonio outscored Minnesota 37-21 in the fourth quarter alone, and the runaway started on a classic Ginobili sequence.
The Spurs were down by seven points with the ball out of bounds and just under eight minutes remaining. Parker received the inbounds with just 4.6 seconds left on the shot clock, penetrated and tried to dump the ball off to Duncan. But it never got through. Minnesota batted it away, the ball ended up in Jared Cunningham’s hands and Corey Brewer was on the run-out, as he always is. He’s like every dog I had growing up — the second that front door opens he bolts after the squirrel in your front yard.
Minnesota had gone to that well all night, and this time Manu was ready. The Spurs had been dropping players back in coverage as soon as any shot went up on the offensive end to defend against the streaking Brewer, but it’s more difficult to plan for this course of action off of turnovers. So Ginobili just reacted.
The second Cunningham gained control of the ball, Manu cut toward him and went skyward with his arms and legs reaching. That’s when Cunningham let it fly with Brewer heading down the sideline. But Ginobili’s guess was perfect. He deflected the pass and it bounced harmlessly to Boris Diaw, who returned it to Manu before Parker set up wide open in the near corner on the right side of the floor. Ginobili swung it over — buckets.
This sequence ignited a quick 6-0 run over a 28-second span to bring the Spurs within one point, 98-97, with nearly seven minutes left to play, and outside of one last flurry from Love, the Spurs dominated the rest of the way.
San Antonio entered the fourth down 89-80 but had outscored Minnesota 11-9 over the first 4:24 of the final frame before the steal sequence from Ginobili. From there, the Spurs went on a 26-12 burst to end the game, hitting 10 of their final 15 shots (six of which were layups) and holding the Timberwolves to just 2-of-12 shooting down the stretch. And Love, who knocked in his 42nd point with 6:07 left to play, went scoreless the rest of the way. And much of that had to do with the defense of Diaw.
Love was a wrecking ball the majority of the night. He hit a career high eight 3-pointers on just nine attempts and was wreaking havoc on the glass, as he is wont to do. For the first three quarters he abused anyone who tried to check him, showing how uniquely dominant a player he can be. Few people in the game, both today and in the past, have possessed such a blend of interior presence on the glass and ability to rain down 3-pointers from anywhere on the court. Love is stepping back off the dribble and hitting 3s at 6-foot-10. It’s unreal to watch.
Here’s the craziest part: Only once in the last 30 years has a player notched at least 42 points and 14 rebounds in a regular-season game against the Spurs. That happened in April of 1993, when Hakeem Olajuwon went for 45 and 14 against San Antonio. Love just became the second to do it.
If you stretch that out to include playoffs, Dirk Nowitzki and Amare Stoudemire will join the party. And still, between the regular season and the playoffs, Love’s performance has only been matched three other times against the Spurs since 1985.
But wait; there’s more. Love became just the second player since 1985 to hit at least eight 3-pointers and grab at least 14 rebounds in the same game, playoffs included. The only other person to do it: Klay Thompson against the Spurs in the Western Conference Semifinals last May. Weird.
But Diaw cracked down late in the game. Love only got off two shots over the final six minutes, and one of them was in the final 10 seconds when the game was no longer in doubt. Diaw’s combination of length, girth and quickness, and his underrated understanding of the defensive side of the ball present issues for opposing players. Love couldn’t get a free look when he needed them most, because Diaw was invading his air space.
On several occasions down the stretch, Love would try to separate, pick up his dribble and look to shoot, but there was never a shot there and he was forced to give up the ball. Diaw’s hands were always in the way, and Love was intent on firing jumpers. I mean, he did hit eight freaking 3-pointers, so you can’t blame him for staying outside during the latter stages of the game. But Diaw knew he wanted to shoot, and he was prepared defensively. Minnesota’s offensive flow was disrupted because the Spurs clamped down defensively, and the Wolves hardly got a single decent look at the basket in the final six minutes.
This was just one of those glorious treats of a game to watch. Love went supernova, Ginobili was historically great (he became the oldest player since at least 1985 to go for 20 points on 60 percent shooting or better and rack up nine assists in fewer than 26 minutes), Parker had a season high 29 points, Duncan almost snagged a triple double with 12 points, 14 rebounds, eight assists, three blocks and two steals, and oh yeah, Kawhi Leonard had a season high 19 points to go along with six rebounds and five assists.
And it came quite easily for the Spurs on the offensive end. They shot 55 percent form the floor against the Wolves, including 10-of-22 from deep and an unreal 31-of-41 from inside the paint. There was very little resistance from Minnesota in the paint over the course of the night. The Spurs were on the attack in the fourth, as well, testing the Wolves’ internal strength the whole time.
Minnesota was hounding Parker off the dribble, but he eventually made them pay — Ricky Rubio, in particular. Parker said he could tell Rubio was focusing on jumping the passing lanes aggressively on penetration, so the Spurs were doing everything they could to put Parker in position to shed Rubio out of the pick and roll and attack Nikola Pekovic. It certainly worked.
Pek is just too slow to keep up, and San Antonio guards were attacking from all directions — off the dribble and off cuts toward the rim. It’s yet another example of how deadly Parker can be when he’s getting into the lane, and how he’s learned to adjust on the fly to the way team’s are defending him.
And how about the Spurs’ shot chart tonight? That’s a lot of red for a team that just shot 55 percent, but just look at the numbers in the paint:
San Antonio’s offense is starting to hum along again, and it’s doing so without Tiago Splitter and, hell, even Aron Baynes. But the Spurs still have the Big Three, and even all these years later and with all the miles in their rearview mirrors, their brilliance still appears to be enough for the road ahead.
They hope, at least.