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