Minnesota Timberwolves 107, San Antonio Spurs 83: System overtaxed

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Adaptable as the San Antonio Spurs system may be, like any other system it relies on certain components and processes to run. Remove enough of those from the equation and eventually the entire system degrades to the point of crashing.

The Spurs have been able to survive without point guard Tony Parker, but absent Tim Duncan and Kawhi  Leonard (who both stayed in San Antonio with sore left knees) and having played the night before at home in a win over the Oklahoma  City Thunder, everything finally collapsed for a night.

Early on the system “booted up” properly, with Danny Green working off the ball and in transition for open three-pointers and layups. Perched at the elbows and mid post, Tiago Splitter dissected the defense with precision passes to purposeful cutters.

When Splitter found Manu Ginobili on backdoor cut for a 21-9 lead it appeared the system would prevail once more.

But as simple as it has seemed to simply assume everyone would step up and the offense would adapt to the lost players, at some point the absent skill sets sitting back home would be missed. Faced with adversity, whether through fatigue, stepping into new roles, or the pressure placed on them by the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Spurs simply crashed.

Effective as he was against Oklahoma City, Splitter rarely plays the role of primary post threat. And with Ginobili ineffective (2-10 shooting, one assist, two turnovers) and no other sources of dribble penetration on the team, Splitter at times took on too much.

He forced shots and passes, notably trying to thread a no-look behind-the-back bounce pass to Stephen Jackson along the baseline that found its way into photographers’ row.

And while the Spurs played sloppy, the Timberwolves were brilliant. Especially second-year point guard  Ricky Rubio. Not quite himself coming back from a torn ACL in the two teams previous meeting, the Spurs saw a fully realized version of Rubio.

Rubio had the ball on a string and defenders on skates in weaving in and out of the Spurs defense for his first  career triple double. Throw in an outlier 60 percent three-point shooting night from the NBA’s worst three-point shooting team, and the Spurs simply couldn’t keep up.

The team pressed and compounded errors. If the system is a process, the Spurs skipped steps.  Offensively and defensively. Most nights the runs the Timberwolves made would be met by the calming influence of Parker, Duncan, or even Leonard as of late.

All three are capable of making a few individual plays while the team resets itself and gets back to their basic principles. Without that, it becomes far too easy to get away from what has worked.

Tonight has little to do with what kind of playoff team the Spurs will be, because these most certainly won’t be the same Spurs that play in them. As such, it’s hard to derive anything of value from the loss.

It’s just a reminder of how interconnected a lot of the Spurs components are, and that while it is adaptable, stress it too much and it can crash.

  • junierizzle

    Totally saw this coming.
    When we learned about Duncan and Leonard sitting, my brother and I had a discussion about Pop resting his guys. Even when they play they at most they play 30 minutes. My brother said maybe they should play more minutes because they need to get used to playing 30+ minutes in the playoffs. How can they be ready if they are only accustomed to playing 30 minutes? They are supposed to be fresher but it doesn’t work out that way.

    I said that them resting is more about avoiding injury.

    What do you guys think? Should they play more or is POP playing it right?

  • http://www.facebook.com/brandon.burkhart Brandon Burkhart

    Pop “unleashed the hounds” against OKC because we have to learn how to beat them to get anywhere in the post season. And it worked. I think he saw this back-to-back game against the T-Wolves as more of an exhibition match, where players like Joseph, De Colo, Bonner, Mills and Baynes could get some extra court time. It’s not like we have to beat the T-Wolves in the playoffs or we were going to lose the number one seed with a defeat tonight. I’m still disappointed with the outcome (and with Ginobili sucking) but I’m trying to see it from Coach Pop’s perspective.

  • Graham

    Nah, having our core with lots left in the tank is more important, not to mention protect vulnerable body parts (gotta help Timmy’s knee hold up). Remind your brother there ARE no back to backs come playoff time, and those games in particulare are the ones where fatigue creeps in and injuries become more likely.

    Our guys definitely looked gassed, lots of front-iron shots. A ‘schedule loss’ if I ever saw one. T-Wolves came out of their initial funk crisp and energized, and we didn’t have the legs to compete.

  • junierizzle

    Thats right. No back-to-backs.

  • junierizzle

    Yeah I was disappointed with Manu’s play too. I’m surprised he played at all. Let’s just chalk it up tO it being because of the back-to-back.

  • junierizzle

    Just thought of something: The Heat could be riding a 20+ game winning streak by the time they come to town.

  • spurINhouston

    Multiple studies provide evidence that repetitive injuries are harder (and take longer) to recover from than acute injuries. I’d say Pop is playing his cards right with this one. Fresh knees for Duncan and Leonard will be priceless come playoff time. Factor in the no back-to-back’s in the playoffs and I wouldn’t worry about Pop’s long-term logic.

  • junierizzle

    That sounds logical to me. Like I told my bro its probably a little of both but the main one could be avoiding injury. Or avoiding prolonging an injury. Granted an injury can happen anytime but you still have to take precautions.

  • Spurholic

    Crime Scene, OKC training facility Coach SB, for the hundreth time trying to remain calm ” russel, its no big deal”, “No big deal, Man you paying any attention” comes back the “Snarl”. “Twice in three matches those robotic Spurs, get torched by a PG and, me, I’m the one they contain”, “But, you did score 20 + points”, “Yeah on 27 shot attempts, Man, me of all the PGs”. Don’t worry, Russ, Apr 4th, you’ll get your chance, even Tony will be back then. Why, any PG in the league, it seems, could torch the Spurs right now, but only you, when the Frenchie comes back. Now open the door and let others practice, we are two hours behind schedule”.

  • Bob

    It didn’t mean anything in the playoffs last time. They still ran out of gas. Playing every other day during the playoffs can be just as bad as back-to-backs since playoff minutes are way more intense.

  • Tyler

    Fatigue was not the reason SA lost. They lost b/c OKC was playing at their absolute peak. If Perkins and Ibaka don’t shoot near 100% in game 4, SA is up 3-1 and most likely moving on the Finals. On the flip side, our role players didn’t play well. And it was the role players for both teams that was the difference.

    Sometimes you just get beat by the better team, and last year, OKC was the better team for 4 games.

  • Graham

    Fatigue wasn’t why we lost. The thunder found their stride for 4 games in a row and outplayed us. Green and Splitter are much better now, and Kawhi is even MORE impressive, while the Thunder at best are roughly at the same level as they were last year. I like our chances in a rematch, homecourt or no.

  • Bob

    If the Spurs had more energy during the series they could have played better defense. They spent all their energy on offense and the defense suffered as a result.

  • MG20TD21

    What has happened to this site? It used to be my favorite Spurs site, but the lack of updates lately have been lame. Pounding the Rock is now by far my go to site. Nothing against you Andrew. You are a good writer, and I still look forward to your pieces, but the site as a whole has become stagnant. What gives?

  • MG20TD21

    Now I remember, why I stopped visiting this site on a regular basis. It is full of doom and gloom fans. I’ll not get into why I think the boys lost last year, but I will say this. The Spurs are a better team than they were last year, The D is good, and the O flows like the best of them when we are healthy. Tim gets his fifth this year, I don’t care what complaints that odd year title fan says in his posts. Come over to PTR if you want to be positive. AND this is an odd numbered year, if you are into that sort of thing.

  • neverthehero

    we have four years of hearing about Pop’s long-term logic and no finals to show for it. Here’s a thought, the teams that don’t have to worry about playing their players too much usually win championships. The teams that have to watch the freshness of their plays have to get too many breaks to win. The Spurs haven’t gotten the breaks (the ones they wanted) so they haven’t won. If anything, I say let’s try a differnt strategy.

  • neverthehero

    look, no body wants to be doom and gloom all the time, but every damn year we here that this team was better than last. It takes a year to get the Spurs system down. All that talk might be true but we are getting the same darn results.

  • neverthehero

    I have a theory ie just my own thoughts. A few years ago, there was countless articles on this site, almost too much. A lot of time was put into each game and the stats were poured over. What happened? The Spurs lost in the damn first round that year. Outside of people just maybe not having the time to write daily articles, maybe the authors decided that writing about every game, doing a preview, doing a recap and going over the recap was too much. Maybe their schedules get in the way, for a simple answer. But with the spursnation.com and sites like PTP doing a lot more daily reporting, maybe 48 peeps decided that there’s no need to continue to do so much writing as well………… I do miss the corporate knowledge and maybe they could every two weeks have a big picture article about the status of the team.

  • Graham

    I could see your point, if we were in the middle of the pack and barely making a scratch in the playoffs. We were two friggin wins away from the finals! We’ve been rattling off 50 win seasons like they were an afterthought! We’re one of 3 teams considered the serious contenders! It sounds like you are saying ‘Yeah, these A’s are good and all, but it’s not an A+. We need to blow things up and slog through a couple C- or worse seasons to rebuild’.

  • Graham

    At LEAST 22 Teams would kill for our ‘same ol’ results.’ We have a very good shot at a championship run, particularly this year. What more do you want? We’re not going to become the Heat, and we have plenty of time to do what the Thunder did once our core retires, if need be. There’s a reason so many teams poach talent from our FO, we have the most smooth running operation in pro sports. We field a top tier contender every year for the past 14 years, i think that earns the organization the benefit of the doubt.

  • spurINhouston

    The problem with that is that we don’t have the pieces to play that way and still come out with a favorable record come playoff time. The whole Spurs (aka Pound the Rock ) development philosophy is predicated on the fact that we find talent from obscure sources (see Parker, Ginobili, Leonard, Splitter, Green, Neal, etc); we aren’t a high market team to attract the “fresh legs” you speak of, like the Lebrons and Griffins of the NBA. Pop makes the best of what he and his stellar scouting team finds.