Minnesota Timberwolves 108, San Antonio Spurs 95: Manu returns, but Spurs drop third straight

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SAN ANTONIO — If you were looking for solace on the scoreboard in San Antonio, you weren’t going to find it tonight. But if you were looking for a sign — any sign — of better things to come, perhaps the return of No. 20 was enough to whet your appetite … to some degree, at least.

The Minnesota Timberwolves came into the AT&T Center and easily dispatched of the Spurs, 108-95, creating further discomfort in the Alamo City before a first-round playoff date with the Los Angeles Lakers, who beat the Houston Rockets last night in overtime, 99-95.

But Manu Ginobili’s time on the court, however brief, seemed well-spent, and it was his pass to Tim Duncan for an and-1 in the first half that reminded us of exactly what this team has missed. The second quarter was the brightest moment of the night; that play the lead highlight.

Ginobili took an outlet pass from Duncan along the right side of the court, waited for the big man to fill the lane down the middle and dropped a perfectly placed, reverse-spinning bounce pass that ended up right in Timmy’s hands. Duncan converted the basket while being fouled, and for a second, all was right in the universe. San Antonio scored 37 points in the second quarter before putting up just 34 in the entire second half.

There was a moment there where we were reminded of what this team can do together, albeit brief.

“We know what we can be. We’ve done it all season long. We’ve done it for years. We know what we can be,” Duncan said in the locker room. “It’s about playing consistently. We haven’t been good defensively for the last however many games, so hopefully our focus coming into these playoffs is going to change. We’re going to be ready for it, we’re excited about it.”

As for Manu’s return itself, Duncan said it’s the sixth man who’s most relieved to be on the court. The team struggles when he’s gone, but probably not as mightily as Ginobili battles within himself.

“He’s more excited than anyone else just to be out there, just to be on the floor actually playing. He’s been chomping at the bit to get back out there and get his rhythm back,” Duncan said. “Good to see him, not only out there playing, but it looks like he’s got a bit of something going.”

In a game that mattered little more than a practice at this juncture, the idea of momentum was crumpled up and tossed out the window like tonight’s box score should be. The Spurs got a taste of what it felt like to have each member of the Big 3 together again, and in a small sample size there was no bitterness.

Plus, Ginobili felt fine.

“I only played 12 minutes, but those 12 minutes felt good,” Manu said. “(Pop) even stole 14 seconds from me. He said I was going to play 12 (minutes). But I get used to it, it’s happened so many times. I wasn’t going to go one minute over.”

Still, it’s 12 minutes — er, 11 minutes and 46 seconds — over the course of 19 days, hardly enough time to find your form after sitting for so long.

“It’s too early to tell. You don’t get it back because of a play. I need to practice, so these next four days are going to be great for me,” Ginobili said. “I need to play with the guys and go up and down. So far I’ve been playing 1-on-1 only, and against the video guys, because my teammates were on the road.

“I lost a couple of them, but they were great battles.”

And if Manu’s sense of humor reflects it at all, this locker room feels loose despite three consecutive losses. The last time this team lost three games in a row was in April of 2011, the year the Grizzlies ousted the Spurs in the first round. But San Antonio doesn’t seem too stressed about it. They’ve been through this before.

“We don’t care about the losses. The thing is, we are not playing that well, and our defense has not been very solid. So that’s a concern, not the loss itself,” Ginobili said. “In April we haven’t been very sharp and we’ve got to pick it up. Because if not, you know how the West is. You blink and you’re out of the fight.”

But without another game prior to opening tip of the NBA Playoffs, the Spurs will have to find alternative ways to get back on track.

“A little bit of it will be with practice, but the other thing is, of course, the atmosphere of the playoffs. In that regard it’s easy to get it back, the motivation, the desire, the fire, because it’s automatic,” Manu said. “But of course, X’s and O’s, we’ve got to be good, too. We’ve got to be attentive, focused, because whoever we play against will be a great team.”

The fight begins on Sunday, so don’t blink.

  • Graham

    I feel suprisingly confident now. Manu and Parker look a LOT better, and our starting 5 should do quite well now that the pieces are back in place.

    Need to see that first game to get a real sense of where this team is at, but I think the result will be good.

  • td4life

    Anybody who thinks that number 24 was his team’s best player is a fool. The three best players in our first round matchup will all be bigmen, and our guy is the oldest of the three and is unaccustomed to playing big minutes this season.

    Spurs end with a 3 game losing streak to go 3-7 over the last 10 games. I haven’t disliked a season this much since TD’s third year in which he sat out our first round exit to PHX due to injury.

    If these playoffs end in an embarrassing fashion, TD should quietly ask to be traded.

  • Graham

    And it’s the Lakers…….thank god. Rather broom those clowns than wear ourselves out in a trackmeet with the Rockets.

  • Graham

    I find the idea hilarious. We will be fine, the Lakers are a good matchup for us.

  • http://www.facebook.com/zach.carlson.121 Zach Carlson

    I agree to anyone that thinks we’re in trouble just look back at the other night. We lost by 6 in a game where we didn’t have manu and half of tony when we had nothing to play for while they had everything to play for and needed blake to have the best game of his career to squeak by.

  • assistman

    Once again, too many turnovers.

  • Nima K.

    Looks like Stern is gonna get his wish of a Thunder-Lakers WCF after all.

  • Spurs fan in Australa

    Lakers vs Spurs in the playoffs is always fun to watch, even if they don’t have Kobe. I just hope Parker plays at the MVP level he was playing at earlier this year.
    On another note, the first round matchups for the West are all intriguing matchups, could be an exciting first round.

  • Tim

    Agreed. TD still arguably plays at a higher level than either Pau or Dwight Howard when it counts. Tiago Splitter should have a few good games as well, and the Lakers can’t hang with our backcourt or bench.

  • merkin

    td4life, you said the 3 best players in the 1st rd. matchup are all big men. I see Howard and Gasol, but who’s the 3rd?

  • merkin

    oh wait, I think you meant between the two teams, yes? Then you must mean Timmy.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Don’t be to sure about it. That team has got it together with the their front court duo and Blake surging at the moment. Like Legler said “they’re leaking oil and running out of gas”. More like discombobulated. What the hell has happened to this team? This is not as easy a series as you think. Rather have had the rockets instead.

  • Titletown99030507d

    I wonder in this series if Tiago’s going to go out at the 6 minute mark in the first quarter and sit for 9 minutes for his first substitution while Blair comes out full of energy and scores a few points gets 3 fouls, makes a few to’s, and maybe 2 rebounds during 9 minutes as he has for the last 2 – 3 weeks. Why now? And why didn’t Tiago play last night? Everybody gets the same amount of rest after the Minny game. Hell Timmy played 27 minutes and Tiago sits. Timmy = 37, Tiago =27. It’s all moot at this point. Good luck.

  • Titletown99030507d

    A little too late for that. Yeah for the life of me I can’t understand why they played a 37 year old 27 minutes in a meaningless game last night and big minutes throughout the entire frikin season when they had a very capable big in Tiago to get most of the big man minutes especially since he’s proven himself. And now they sat Tiago even more towards the end of the season. No sense to me. Pop should have at least given him the satisfaction to be the only player on the team to play all 82 games. He even took that away from him. If I’m not mistaken I’m thinking Tiago is ready to jump on a new crew once the playoffs are over. Then they can have old man Timmy, Bonner, Blair, and Baynes for their scary front court next season. This is a joke. PS: Old men to get senile. Right pop?

  • Titletown99030507d

    They are going to kick our ass. I hope I’m wrong. They are a bad match up for us. Especially now.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Tiago should have a few good games as well? Not if he sits early and waits 9 minutes waiting on Blair to get off the court. What are you thinking? Look at the change pop has made in the last 2 weeks of the season. Forget about Diaw’s injury that alone should have given Tiago by default more minutes, but by the looks of CIA genius he feels otherwise. He just never liked Tiago. Of course RC drafted him not pop. This guy is gone after the playoffs. Tiago deserves better.

  • Titletown99030507d

    If that’s “look a lot better” to you? We are in trouble. No Manu is not even near to what he needs to be and Tony something is wrong with this guy. He can’t even defend anymore. He’s the youngest and he looks like one of the oldest right now. Something is going on with this dude. And pray that ICY is on vacation and hot shows up. As for Neal just shoot the damn ball don’t try to be Tony on a fast break.Same goes for ICY/HOT. And play the shit out of Tiago. It’ll serve the team good. I don’t even want to see Bonner or Blair on the damn court for more than 8 minutes.

  • td4life

    Lately Tim Duncan has been the only great player on this team, and he’ll have his hand full against those two guys.