San Antonio Spurs 107, Minnesota Timberwolves 96: The Spurs win behind a big first quarter

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The San Antonio Spurs defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves for the 16th consecutive time. The Timberwolves will have to wait until next season for another crack at the Spurs. And the Spurs are happy to wait.

“I’m tired of playing them,” Gregg Popovich said after the game. “They’ve been harder for us to play than anybody so far, actually.”

The Timberwolves destroyed San Antonio on the glass in the previous three contests. Last night, the Spurs battled hard for every rebound and came up one shy of Minnesota, 46-47. But really, the game was over long before anyone took notice of that tally.

San Antonio won this game on the strength of the first quarter, which they rode to a commanding 36-25 lead. The two team’s played to a tie for the remainder of the game.  On the game, the Spurs had 28 assists on 37 FGM, and that pattern was set early as the Spurs shared the ball and shot their way into an early lead that they would never surrender.

The first quarter was a microcosm of all that has made the Spurs great this season—strong guard play, excellent three point shooting, feisty team defense, and everyone sharing the ball.  The rest of the game was less impressive, but not necessarily poor. The Spurs played well defensively, but gave themselves over to a general sloppiness. The Spurs finished the game with 17 TO, two more than the Wolves.

My takeaway from this game is that the Spurs are an amazing 32-6 and have yet to play many full games of outstanding basketball. I continue to think San Antonio’s record is misleading. But not in the sense that they’re setting everyone up for disappointment. It’s the opposite, actually. The Spurs could play much better.

It’s hard to imagine the Spurs shooting the three ball better, but  every other aspect of San Antonio’s game is inconsistent, especially the team’s defense. And the Spurs could eliminate many careless turnovers, and, in general, they could stick to the ball movement plot a little more closely. This was the story last night: tremendous first quarter play followed by a train of merely adequate basketball.

Again, they’re good. The Spurs are deserving of their league-leading record. But they’re also something of a tease. I keep expecting them to turn the corner, like during last night’s sizzling first quarter. I keep expecting the Spurs to tie it down for 48 minutes and go on a put-the-world-on-notice tear. It just hasn’t happened yet.

  • http://www.bpifanconnect.com Alix Babaie

    I think we will begin to see the steadfast improvement by the Spurs once a few things shake out:

    Once we get James Anderson back.

    Once Pop shows us all he has simply been resting Tiago Splitter and starts to inject him more frequently into the action.

    Once we hit the Rodeo Road Trip, which has historically galvanized this team and made them battle tested champions.

    Can’t believe how great the team is doing to date….I am 99% certain NOBODY predicted that the Spurs would be on the cusp of 40 wins before February!

  • jwalt

    One play early in the game summed up Blair for me in a nutshell. Coaches often refer to talented but mistake prone players (either physical or mental) as being both the problem and the answer. Well, Blair is definitely in that category.

    Anyway, Blair made a great play in out hustling 2 T-Wolve players for an offensive rebound along the baseline (very good). He turned to see if anyone was cutting to the basket (also very good).
    Manu was, and Blair, with no vision problems, proceeded to throw the ball right at Manu’s shins (very bad). The simplest part of that series, hitting your teammate in the chest, was the part Blair didn’t have the focus to accomplish.

    Manu eventually gathered the ball but then missed the shot — a clean pass and he has an easy layup or dunk.

    Blair did the hard part well, the easy part he screwed up. Just another “lack of focus” moment for him. I see his talent but he drives me nuts with his brain farts.

    Anyone else remember the play? Very early in the game.

  • Tim in Surrey

    Tim and Alix Babaie – Yeah, I’m pretty much in full agreement with you. I do think that the Spurs are legitimate contenders, not so much because of how they’re playing right now but because they AREN’T consistently playing tough defense or crisp offense. Does anybody really think a team coached by Popovich will be playing this way in the playoffs?

    For those who want us to acquire another big man via trade or free agency, I’ll post this quote from Stan Van Gundy, who’s also looking for a backup big man (courtesy of ESPN’s NBA Rumors page):

    [snip]
    Available Bigs Don’t Impress SVG

    The Magic have little depth at the power forward and center positions. However, general manager Otis Smith said this past weekend that he probably won’t make a move for a big man.

    Head coach Stan Van Gundy is on board with Smith because he doesn’t think there is any quality in the pool of big men they could acquire though free agency or a trade.

    “The names that I have heard that might be available, that Otis has run by me, Malik Allen is better than those guys,” Van Gundy told the Orlando Sentinel. “Even though he’s a little bit smaller, he’s better. So, I don’t think adding a guy just to add a guy is it. If there’s a guy out there we think could make a difference in us getting by the teams we’re trying to get by to try and win the east, then we’d be open to making a move. But I don’t think we need to make a move just to have another body on the roster.”

    Allen is recovering from a sprained ankle and is not expected to be activated for at least another week.

    — Nick Borges
    [snip]

    So… We are who we are (which suits me just fine).

  • Dr. Who

    “I continue to think San Antonio’s record is misleading. But not in the sense that they’re setting everyone up for disappointment. It’s the opposite, actually. The Spurs could play much better.”

    Totally agree.

    We still get bashed on NBA TV by the “experts.” Was watching last night and they mentioned the surprise at the Spurs record etc. etc. but they mentioned the Rodeo Road Trip, which we as Spurs fans say that is usually when the season turns for us… nope. The announcers said that we’d come back down to earth with our record and the league would make some ground becasue we’re away from home for a month. I agree that we will take more than our share of losses due to the Spurs being on the road for a month, but historically the team comes out of that trip in much better shape than when it went in. I guess most of the pundits see the Spurs weaknesses and are waiting for our record to come back to earth. While most of us fans think our record is a bit inflated but it’s because we know the Spurs can play at a more consistent and even better level than what they are playing now. If this team hits it’s stride and plays consistent team defense and focuses for the entire game (no more double digit turnovers) this will be a magical season.

  • mybloodissilverandblack

    Would you look at that. SAS finally outrebounded the big-ass frontline of the T’wolves. Then again Kevin Love did another 20-20 surgery on the Spurs. But that’s fine.

    And our guys finally did not let themselves fall behind against this feisty team. They applied the chokehold as soon as possible. I wish they could do it each and every single game.

    And as for those NBA TV “experts,” namely Dennis “a-hole” Scott… well, he doesn’t really matter, does he? It’s great that the Spurs aren’t noticed at all, doing their own stuff under the radar. But to be let down like that? Well, just let, our guys do the proverbial crotch chop on him. Or “experts” like him.

  • Dr. Who

    @ Tim in Surrey

    Interesting comment by Van Gundy. It’s quite ironic since their trade has sparked their team, but they gave away two great pieces in Gortat and Peitrus. Normally you never give up bigs. The Magic did and went on a 9 game winning streak scoring over twice as many fast break points as they had before the streak. Sounds a little familiar. But… the Spurs have a history of executing the half court game and are deeper than the Magic at the 4 and 5.

  • Dr. Who

    @mybloodissilverandblack
    “Then again Kevin Love did another 20-20 surgery on the Spurs. But that’s fine.”

    Yeah it’s fine if he consistently does that to other teams. Yep he sure does! 20-20 is just another day at the office. If this guy isn’t an All-Star the fix is in.

    Under the radar is juuuust fine with me. In fact I’d prefer it.

  • Espoon

    @Tim in Surrey

    The Spurs defense has fallen off from its championship runs. It hasn’t been good enough the last 3 years. The real question is come playoff time whether this teams improved offense will be enough to makeup for its defense. Then there is the question of do the Spurs have the personel to play that championship defense. McDyess may be the wild card for this current team and I think Pop is starting to realize this. He will be needed come playoff time.

    I don’t like the idea of Bonner getting the most min. of the bigs after Duncan and think he should be at best a 4th big and McDyess the 3rd.

    The Spurs may not have the players to make a deal but there are plenty of quality bigs out there and available.

    I think the Magic will eventually add another big, it may just be a big body like a Skinner or Collins but they need insurance.

  • Ed

    Bonner has quietly improved his defense greatly over the last 2 years. It is now firmly average. I’ll take avergae defense from a guy who shoots like him. He’s also incorporated putting the ball on the floor and going to the rim.

  • jwalt

    I agree that McDyess should get the lion’s share of PT in the playoffs, but think Bonner is far more valuable than Blair. The question is will Pop keep his 4th best big in the starting lineup or somewhere along the way make the switch.

    I’m sure Pop is curtailing McDyess’s minutes intentionally, hoping to keep just sharp enough for the stretch run.

    Bonner has a lot of positives. He spreads the floor, hardly ever turns the ball over, rebounds well, and his defense has improved. Average is correct.

  • TD = Best EVER

    @ Espoon

    “I don’t like the idea of Bonner getting the most min. of the bigs after Duncan…”

    Agreed

    @ Ed & jwalt

    Bonner = Average defender

    Really?? when did that happen. A few good games doesn’t wipe away 20 horrible ones. He shot well last night and now everyone forgets about how well he didn’t and hasn’t defended in the post these last few years.
    Also in getting ready for the playoffs we are gonna need more than just average D

  • Bankshot21

    I pose this question to all the Bonner bashers: What power forwards that come off the bench in the entire NBA are more valuable than Matt Bonner? I’m POSITIVE you can not name 5!

  • rob

    @Tim in Surrey

    That snippet is what I’ve been saying the past 3 weeks. And believe me…I’ve tried harder than TD=BE in trying to find a solution. A player available that could “actually” make a difference. There isn’t one. And if there was…I’m sure the Spurs would have already been (if at least not on the phone), already had such a player on the roster.

    I also agree (and have mentioned before) what Pop team has never improved on defense towards the end of the season since he’s been coaching the team?

    Now I will admitt that Blair (not Tiago) is the team’s main concern. One can’t be concerned about a player that doesn’t play (Tiago). However Blair is a concern since he starts and for all pratical purposes is supposed to be more consistent than he plays.

    Blair still will have a great game proceeded by games he can’t play more than 20 minutes. He’s not ceriberal. Big and strong? Yes. Intelligent? Not in terms of basketball IQ, or at the least can remain focussed an entire game.

    Hopefully this changes regarding Blair. McDyess has been great…but how long can the old warrior keep up?

    The team’s hopes to advance far into the playoffs will demand Blair become a more ceriberal and focussed player.

  • jwalt

    td best — Bonner’s +/- FOR THE SEASON is the 4th best on the team. Not one or two games, for the season.

    You think it doesn’t matter, I wonder what is a more important stat then “how does the team do when a player is on the court.”

    When Bonner is playing, the team wins. It’s a statistical fact. Don’t you want the Spurs to win?

    Bonner bashing continues, and I don’t understand why.

  • jwalt

    Rob — I’ve asked before, are you the same person who is from NY and likes the Raiders? If not, your opinions are right on the money with the NY Rob.

  • rob

    @jwalt

    No. I don’t live in NY. Assuming your comment was a compliment…Thanks.

  • senorglory

    “Bonner bashing continues, and I don’t understand why.”

    It’s because he’s a ginger and runs like a spaz.

  • NYC

    +10

    I couldn’t agree more with the sentiments expressed in this article.

  • Espoon

    @ Bankshot21

    I can give you 5 easily: Lamar Odom, Glen Davis, Taj Gibson, Serge Ibaka, and Tyrus Thomas. If the Spurs had a better starter Bonner’s role would be reduced; right now he is ahead of Blair on the depth chart even if he starts (kind of like when Manu used to come off the bench). One of the biggest reason Bonner gets as much time is because Blair hasn’t got the job done and can’t shoot a lick, Pop is resting McDyees, and is not playing splitter. You see Pop is doing more offense defense subtituions and McDyess will be called upon more.

  • Espoon

    @ jwalt

    “When Bonner is playing, the team wins. It’s a statistical fact. Don’t you want the Spurs to win?”

    Since Bonner has become a regular rotation guy the Spurs have no rings and not 1 conference finals apperance; and got destroyed in the series they lost.

    The problem is not with Bonner it is with his role, so the problem is with Pop’s use of Bonner and his and thinking that this frontline can get the job done. Come playoff time this team is going to need more defense and rebounding. Maybe this is the year Bonner finally steps up.