Minnesota Timberwolves 107, San Antonio Spurs 83: System overtaxed
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.