San Antonio Spurs 107, Minnesota Timberwolves 101: Mike Budenholzer leads the Spurs back from 15


The last time the Spurs played the Timberwolves, Minnesota’s frontcourt completely out-muscled and out-hustled their San Antonio counterparts.  After the three quarters, this game looked destined to follow the same course. Minnesota led the Spurs 86-71, Gregg Popovich had just been tossed for protesting a non-call, and Minnesota was beating San Antonio badly on the glass, when Coach Bud took the controls.

After three quarters the Timberwolves held a 46-24 rebound advantage over the Spurs, and they bested San Antonio 18-4 on the offensive glass. It’s hard to put it better than Tim Griffin did in his excellent game recap:

[Kevin] Love again hammered the Spurs inside, producing 25 points and a game-high 18 rebounds. The Spurs simply didn’t have an answer for him inside, whether they tried to body him or push him outside. He helped spark an early run where the Timberwolves grabbed the first 10 rebounds of the game and cruised to a 59-37 rebounding edge that was the most one-sided by a Spurs opponent this season. Love has averaged 28.5 points and 20 rebounds against the Spurs in his two games against them this season.

But despite the poor rebounding totals and double digit deficit in the scoring column, Mike Budenholzer — standing in for the ejected Gregg Popovich — coached a smart final quarter that led the Spurs to victory. I want to key on a few of his more critical down-the-stretch coaching maneuvers.

I think the most important thing to say is Mike Budenholzer didn’t do anything stupid. That is, he wisely stuck to doing what the Spurs do, and, for that matter, what Gregg Popovich probably would have done.  Someone with the Spurs once told me that Budenholzer might know the Spurs’ playbook better than anyone within the organization, including Gregg Popovich. Over the final quarter, Budenholzer looked comfortable in his skin, and he simply set up operational command within his comprehensive mastery of all things San Antonio.

To start, Coach Bud made all the right substitutions over the final 12 minutes. The best place on the Internet to visualize effective substitution patterns is the Popcorn Machine’s game flow charts. I direct your attention there.

In effort to provide both offense and rebounding, Budenholzer smartly opted for DeJuan Blair instead of Tiago Splitter at the start of the 4th quarter. Splitter had played relatively well to end the 3rd quarter. For example, he was involved in a perfectly executed baseline trap of Kevin Love near the end of the quarter. But Splitter neither offers the offensive punch nor the same rebound rate as Blair. Blair was the right choice.

DB gave the Spurs a crucial 4:28 blast to begin the 4th quarter. His contribution during this stint: two points, three rebounds (two offensive), one assist, one steal, +7. Blair also drew a foul on Darko Milicic. Darko would eventually foul out, and, given his recent record of Spurs slaying, this was all to the benefit of San Antonio.

Another smart Mike Budenholzer decision involved his rest substitutions for Hill and Ginobili.  Hill, with the possible exception of Tim Duncan, was the best Spur on the court last night. Hill played 10:08 of the 4th quarter, but Budenholzer wisely found opportunity to rest Hill in the middle of the quarter, taking advantage of a Minnesota full timeout to extend Hill’s rest to five or six actual minutes. When Hill returned after the timeout, he produced six points, one rebound, and one steal for +14. But more importantly, Hill finished the game with an energy that the Spurs lacked over the initial three quarters.

After the game, Coach Budenholzer had this to say about Hill’s play:

I think his energy and his effort was unbelievable whether you compare him to Manu or just anybody. That loose ball he got out there near half court; it was phenomenal. I think everybody fed off of him and his defense and his effort and his playmaking. He made some big shots and he got to the rim. Pop’s always on him about being aggressive and more aggressive and more aggressive. Tonight, he’s probably happy with him.

Budenholzer compares Hill’s energy to Manu Ginobili’s in the above quote. Ginobili did not shoot the ball well (1-10), be he did motor his way to the hoop for a perfect 13-13 from the line. After Hill’s short 4th quarter rest, Coach Bud put him into the game for Manu Ginobili, allowing Ginobili to collect a little wind before returning to help finish off the T-Wolves.

Ginobili played the opening 4:28 of the 4th quarter, but to little positive effect. No points, one assist, a foul and a turnover in that stint. With 5:13 left to play, Budenholzer went to a full timeout (further extending Ginobili’s rest) and then returned his best five players to the court to close the game: Parker, Ginobili, Hill, Jefferson and Duncan. Ginobili’s sixth and final stint of the game produced eight free throws, a rebound and a block.

In short, Budenholzer had the right players on the court at the right time. And was careful to ensure those players were well-rested for the final minutes of the game.

Moreover, Coach Bud called the right plays to close the contest. The most important of which was this beautiful play from the Popovich archives:

(Thanks, as always, to the assiduous Sebastian Pruiti for the video. You can see his frame by frame breakdown at NBA Playbook.)

And with that, Budenholzer and the Spurs capped off another unlikely comeback against the on-the-come-up Timberwolves.

  • Justin

    Great article! Way to give some credit to coach Bud. It seems like the Spurs played with a renewed fire thanks to him in the fourth quarter. One thing that I have learned this season, is that the Spurs do not lay down. They honestly believe no lead is insurmontable, and sometimes that is half the battle. Go Spurs Go!

  • rob

    Will it ever be known why Pop went off to intentionally get ejected?

    Was it’s only purpose to spark the team?

    Thank goodness for corporate knowledge and Budenholzer’s calm and cool demeanor. If handled any different the Spurs probably lose this game.

    Great read. Spot on.

  • Jacques

    George Hill played well, and it was good to see Tony regain his skills. Great rally by the Spurs, though I am still a bit concerned about how to handle T-Wolves frontcourt in the future. Nevertheless, Go Spurs!

  • Pingback: Tweets that mention Mike Budenholzer keys Spurs comeback over the Timberwolves --

  • spursfanbayarea

    Your observation about popovich getting ejected to spark the team is correct. Lot of NBA coaches use this technique to motivate their team when the team is not playing with great effort. Especially Popovich who is known to use this tactic. Good point on also giving credit to Budenholzer. His corporate knowledge is great and as stated in the article above great rotations.

  • d.iyer

    Great win by the Spurs! The only thing I am concerned about is our front court. When is Tiago going to become an integral part of the team? I hope Pop starts increasing his minutes and draws plays on offense for him. Last night, he had no shot attempts. Observing him in the games, it seems like he is tentative on offense is only looking to score points off broken plays. Tiago needs to be more aggressive and Pop needs to establish him more. We have been waiting for his arrival yet I just don’t feel the impact yet. I hope this is Pop’s master plan and he has something up his sleeves that we don’t know about.

    I like what I am seeing with the team, but this team is not going to make a deep run in the playoffs if the front court pressure is going to be solely on TD and Dice. Rest these guys for the drive for five.

  • Nadeem

    two techs for pop. tht costed him $4k. thank God we won! Money well spent Pop.

  • Bentley

    The energy, hustle, and motivation George Hill played with in this game is something I wish the entire team played with for a FULL 48 minutes. Even with this amazing record, I get the sense that the Spurs do not always play with maximum effort and energy. If that changes, I think some of these lackluster games will disappear

  • The Beat Counselor

    Although it is a little sad to see us struggling against the lowly T-wolves, they do seem to have the beginnings of a solid team, with Beasley, Love and Darko causing interesting mismatches. I wonder what Rubio thinks about them.

    Nice to see swarming defense in the 4th qtr along with Hill’s relentlessness.

    One thing that concerns me is our ball movement. It seems like we haven’t been moving the ball well since our game against Orlando (with the exception of the Golden State game).

    On the other hand, it does seem that whenever we get our bench in, they move the ball well. I think our starters have just been tired playing 4 games last week and again this week (1 more game to go).

    I think we need to trust our bench more, like we did the first several games of the season. Although he’s not quite the lights out shooter I thought he was, I’m still really high on Neal and all the effort that he brings. We’re also really missing James Anderson right now.

    I believe our poor ball movement is also the main reason why our 3s aren’t falling.

    It also seems like we don’t ever make a concerted effort to get RJ involved until the 3rd qtr or unless he does something to remind everyone that he’s there. Wouldn’t TP and Manu’s life be easier if they got him involved earlier?

  • rj

    love, beasely, pekovic, kufos, millicic. minnesota might have the deepest front court in the league. what they need now is to make a trade for some decent shot creators on the perimeter. i’m gonna stop worrying about the front court situation. even though tiago may not be making the impact we all hoped, he’s still a rookie and learning the game stateside. give it time. once our front court catches up with our perimeter play (hopefully it does) and we can clamp down defensively for 4 quarters, we’ll be contenders, no doubt.

  • Bert

    I was at the game, and when Pop got ejected, that spark didn’t take affect until after the Spurs were down 15 pts. 6 minutes of game time after the ejection, the Spurs started trying.

    Bud was pushing the team as if he was Pop. That was good news.

    The Wolves are good. They had 24 offensive rebounds!! They have problems keeping the press on and playing against aggressive defense. They can hang but they can’t finish.

  • Jocko

    Some absolutely horrible phantom calls took Milicic out of the game and hurt the Wolves… Darko’s drop in basket that was called an offensive foul for some reason. After he fouled out, -12 in the last half of the 4th quarter.

  • Ed

    Another good comeback but we all know you can only get away with that so much. I, too, want to see Splitter on the court more. I’d like to see him paired with Duncan for some stretches as well. Hill is always flat out as is Manu. Their energy doesn’t always immediately translate to points but always benefits the team. Spurs have a stretch coming up where they can create another long win streak, let’s hope they do. Timberwolves are better than their record indicates and will be better when they get their PG back, Johhny Flynn has yet to play this year and is currently in the D-league getting back into shape after re-habbing from hip surgery. If the FO doesn’t screw it up Minnesota will be a force in the coming years. Kind if like OKC now.

  • Len

    I think there are two main reasons why the Spurs are not playing as well as earlier…

    1. Tony is just not the same. This divorce is obviously weighing on him. His focus and energy are not the same; he’s a shadow of what he was the first couple weeks of the season. I’m not harping on the guy. Divorce is horrible, absolutely horrible. I’ve seen it and lived it from a child’s perspective. I don’t blame the man at all, I just hope he shakes out of it before the rodeo roadtrip.

    2. It was touched on by The Beat Counselor and I agree wholeheartedly that James is missed alot. His energy and shooting were quite impressive and it’s obvious how good they were now that they are gone.

    The good news is that both of these missing ingredients should be returning. As long as the Spurs keep piling up the “W”‘s, the Spurs will be fine. It would be really, really nice to be able to only play either the Lakers or the Mavs. Going thru both of those teams would be a meat grinder.

  • TheRed&Black

    Really enjoyed the write up, some very good things happening on here on this site. I agree that we are really missing our rookie James Anderson, that kid is a baller.The spurs are a bit fatigued right now, and I agree this might be the cause for the lackluster ball movement. This stretch of home games should be good for us. Predictions for our December record?

  • rob

    Two things regarding Splitter.

    1st. While watching him in the worlds I noticed he accumulated fouls. That’s got to change in the nba. If he garnished fouls in the worlds…which allows more physical play…I suspected he would garnish even more calls against him in the nba.

    2nd. He had an easier time in europe playing his and the team’s style …but the level of competition which he played against was not nba talent.

    This is a learning curve for Tiago. One which he’s got to consciously and effectively soak in.

    The size and talent is there. How long it takes for him to adjust, compensate and bring it all together in the nba forum is the unknown.

    Hence the opinion of why he doesn’t get a lot of minutes at this time. I could be wrong.

  • SpurredOn

    Congrats to Coach Bud. He handled the rotations quite well, in contrast to last season’s second home game vs the Mavs when Pop was ejected and Bud wore down our starters in the 4th Q allowing a Dallas comeback.

    Loved the blocked shots and steals. Did not like having Manu and Hill often boxing out Love and Beasley.

  • Zach R.

    I wonder what the odds are of Budenholzer ultimately replacing Pop when he finally retires (assuming he hasn’t already landed a head position with another franchise by then). With his obvious knowledge of our system and existing relationship with the Spurs, I figure he would at least be interviewed for the position when the time came.

    And I would be 100% cool with that.

  • Regan Rahardja

    @rj, we already are contenders. In my (a little biased but still objective view), the Spurs are the third best team in the league behind Boston and LA (as of the present moment). Not far behind, in my view, is the Dallas Mavericks (hate to say this) with their improved defense with Tyson Chandler.

    I think we have the teamwork, talent, and potential to win the championship this year. Obviously, our rookies and our defense can improve as the season goes on, and I believe it will. How much it improves will be key to our championship aspiration.

    One thing I’ve observed so far though is our inability to match up with bigs as we have seen with our matchups with the Clippers and Wolves. I see that this could be a sign of things to come when it comes to the length and size that the Lakers, Celtics, and Mavs have when it comes to the playoffs. Of course, by then TD and Dyess will be in playoff mode and shape – playing more minutes. Blair should have improved with more playing time and a season to work out some of his game. Tiago should be much more comfortable which will be key. Anyone else think that this frontcourt situation is a glaring area that we should look at in terms of our championship drive? Do others think our frontcourt players will be in better shape when the playoffs arrive? Shaq looks rejuvenated as does a more spry Garnett.

    Our best players – as correctly indicated involves small ball – Parker Hill Manu RJ and Duncan – scary five for sure but lacks some size. We can blitz and mix in with Dyess, Bonner, Splitter, and more speed/blitzing with Neal, Anderson when he’s back – will this be a good championship formula or is it flawed?

  • grego

    Keep in mind that Splitter also has played all year. Spurs don’t have a good history with guys playing all year long through summer.

    Pop, while bringing along Splitter slowly, is also trying to limit his wear and tear.

  • TD = Best EVER

    @ Regan Rahardja

    I agree 100% – the only thing standing in our way is HEALTH and a 3rd RELIABLE (Not even Great, mind you) BIGMAN……… The Spurs need to make a trade or something – I do not wanna see this thing wasted for the sakes of the future development of the team. We have more scoring on the perimeter than any other team in the league. We just have to be able to defend the paint and rebound the basketball……….

  • rj

    what if the spurs acquired eddie curry? for what i know, which is little, is that the knicks are trying to get rid of him. maybe he can be a low cost, low risk big-body to provide some interior muscle we are sorely lacking only if he can stay in shape. i know the guy probably has character issues. like i said, just a though. no need for a 5 paragraph decry…..

  • Kory

    As I watch the slip-screen play–just brilliant. Two defenders focus on Manu because you just “know” the play will be for him. Absolutely brilliant.

    Also, I like Splitter. I think really the thing he needs most of all is to get stronger. That’s shown in the fact that he’s probably a better offensive rebounder than a defensive rebounder. Offensive rebounds are about movement. Defensive rebounds are about holding your ground and it doesn’t seem like Splitter can do that well right now.

  • B Burke

    Splitter is soo slooow. He’ll get better, though. DJB didn’t start making consistent contributions until late December/January of last year. His minutes should stay low until he starts helping the team, though. This is not a rebuilding organization that can afford to give rookies burn just for the sake of experience.

    rj – Eddy Curry hasn’t really played professional basketball since ’07-’08. He’s not the guy I would expect to make an immediate contribution to a good team. He’s also had some personal problems, to say the least.

  • J-Dub

    Give Splitter a break; he missed the whole summer and exhibition season. He needs time to become comfortable with the Spurs system and the pace of the NBA game. I’ll start to get concerned if we have the same questions after the All-Star break.

    Spurs still need to improve defensively. They haven’t been playing 48 minutes of in your face defense consistently, but the offense has been so potent this year that it hasn’t mattered.

    I echo what some of you have already said that the Spurs need another big for playoff matchups, even though we have enough offensive firepower to actually outgun some teams, (which is VERY unusual for us).

    I’d love to be able to steal an underachieving young, big like Jason Thompson (Kings) or Tyrus Thomas (Bobcats) from a team trying to dump salary or looking to the future. Don’t know what we’d have to give up.

    I really like this Spurs team. They could win the title with this current squad. Last year, team’s with size, speed or high scoring gave us problems. Everybody hasn’t taken but the Spurs have the athletes and scoring to match ANYBODY. Only the size gap remains.

  • DorieStreet

    Rebounding: 5 Twolves player totals- 18,8,7, three with 6 (51); 8 Spurs player totals- 10,10,5, five with 2 each (35). Offensive rebounding helped Minnesota get 21 more shots than SA- 94(!) to 75. Twolves only made three 3’s but had an 8-0 and 11-0 run- both in the 3rd quarter. The Spurs shooting just 6 for 23 on 3-pointers AT HOME is just inexcusable. I need an answer someone- we only suit up 12 players; why are the newcomers not getting significant time? This six game homestand provides the perfect opportunity for Neal, Udoka (ex-Spur returning), even Quinn, to gain experience, understanding and confidence in what is expected of them. Also- if Pop had not been ejected, Blair would have not seen the court in the 4th quarter. Be it the opposition’s size, inconsistent play (sophmore slump?), he has been terrible since mid-November, sans the 2 games in California. And if Splitter’s play is not good enough to satisfy the coach, then we need to acquire a young athletic defensive-minded PF/4/big ASAP– (Jason Thompson/Brandon Wright/ Dan Gadzuric?)

  • Big_Texx

    @J-Dubb I ran a trade through the trade machine sending Antonio M. to the kings for Jason Thompson & seeing as how McDee doesn’t want to play past this year and wants to play for a winner & the kings want a young team, i’m almost certain once the trade was made they would arrange a buyout and we could sign him back. Then imagine the future front court J.T. @ 6-10 & T.S. @ 6-11 a monster young front court not to mention Ryan Richards coming over next year @ 7-1 and DeJuan the spurs would still be set up front beyond Duncan.

  • Dave M

    Re: Pop’s ejection, remember that he cut his teeth as an assistant under Don Nelson, perhaps the leaving practioneer of getting intentionally tossed. Of course, Nellie didn’t always figure it would spark a rally, sometimes he just wanted to leave and have a beer.

  • Anoop

    Another laboured win against a young team. While the win is always acceptable – esp coming at the start of a weekend, it does highlight the issues which Spurs will continue to face in the coming months and the play offs – size.

    The issue of front court needs some remedial measure, esp when the red rocket goes 1-10 from the 3 point. Suddenly the jam at the front court appears to be like the rest of the roster – thin. Secondly, is TS the latest big body to be pushed to of Coach Pop’s famous “doghouse”? His reaction when Spurs were making the comeback in the fourth quarter showed subtle signs of frustation – of not being part of the core responsible for the comeback. After having waited so long and given him (almost) mythical powers of rejuvenating the franchise, the role of TS appears a bit confounding. Will the Spurs make a trade to bolster and sustain the current campaign, think not. This could be the factor which might limit the run in the playoffs.

  • rob


    To expand a little upon your trade proposal.


    “Spin: Evans is wearing a splint at night and may move to a walking boot in an effort to rehab both injuries. The ailments seem to be nagging Evans, and he has not been able to build off of a promising rookie season. This may be a time to start shopping Evans, as his injuries appear to be limiting his ability on the court and may continue to hinder him until he has time to properly rest.”

    May sound a little crazy but this trade works and would give San Antonio both an up and budding all star caliber PG as well as Jason Thompson to help secure the post.

  • rob

    Parker and Blair for Evans and Thompson works as well. That plus a first rounder might be what the Kings would only consider. But not so sure about the Spurs agreeing to that.

  • d.iyer

    If the Spurs FO’s goal is to win a title this year, I think one more effective big is key. We have the perimeter talent to compete with most teams.

    If the Spurs do get by the Lakers and make the finals, the most likely opponent with be Boston. Do we have the front court to compete with theirs? KG, Shaq, Perkins, Davis, and J. O’neal? And keeping in mind, their perimeter guys are no slouches (Allen, Rondo, Pierce).

    I just think that a decision needs to be made of whether we go all out and win one more in the Duncan era or we put pieces to contend and hopefully win while still securing the post-Duncan era.

    I hope to just get one for the thumb!

  • Jason

    @d.iyer: The Lakers front court (if healthy – BIG IF) scares me more than Boston’s. Duncan has been owning the match up against KG his whole career, Pop has always made Shaq a liability by hacking him whenever he’s on the floor, so Boston wouldn’t play him much, Davis is one of the few bigs on an elite team that DeJuan does match up well with and McD or Splitter can contain Perk or Jermain – they’re only gonna play 2 of these 5 guys at once after all.

    Its the Laker’s overload of 7 footers thats scary

  • Regan Rahardja

    Great responses guys.

    @Jason – great comments regarding Boston’s bigs which already makes me feel better.

    I’m glad alot of of us can see that we can match up with any team – with the exception of size.

    With LA’s overload of seven footers, I’m glad Bynum shouldn’t be 100%. Gasol is hurt with a hamstring injury right now too. I wouldn’t bank on Theo Ratliff as a big threat. Odom is another big that presents some matchup issues. I’m comfortable with Duncan/Dyess, maybe Blair, and maybe Splitter by the playoffs to take Gasol. I would be comfortable with Duncan on Bynum though he gives up some size and height. Anyone know who normally guards Odom when we play the Lakers?

  • SpurDAWG50

    I just keep coming back to this story to watch the play. IMO, there isn’t a better team in the NBA coming out of a timeout. Hell, even the dead ball sideline plays work most of the time. This is discipline, ya’ll.