The Margin: San Antonio Spurs 104, Minnesota Timberwolves 94
The San Antonio Spurs opened up their Rodeo Road Trip with a 104-94 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, their 11th consecutive victory. For those unfamiliar with this format, sometimes we like to mix our coverage up–the Margin being a bit pilfered from TrueHoop Network-turned-SI writer Rob Mahoney that consists of a thought for every point in the margin of victory:
- Outside the Target Center in Minnesota the weather was frigid. Indoors the shooters proved to be not much warmer. Amidst a flurry of air-balled jump shots, Spurs guard Danny Green caught enough fire to help put the Timberwolves away late in the game. Green ran that gamut of his Icy Hot persona, picking up two quick fouls, air-balling a mid-range jumper, and drawing Popovich’s wrath while connecting on a career-high eight 3-pointers for 28 points.
- Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili were out, yet the Spurs hardly missed a beat. This thought deserves probably its own space, but the Spurs truly are a team built for the regular season, which I say in the most non-insulting way. The Spurs system is essentially plug-and-play, with management able to plug-in one cog as others go down. Over the course of a season the results do not sway wildly because above all execution remains the same. That’s not to say these Spurs aren’t built for the postseason, they’re just simply built to navigate 82 games better than any other team.
- If the Spurs do have one indispensable piece it’s Tony Parker. His ability to collapse a defense is what the rest of the roster is built around and with Chris Paul hurt for an extended period, Parker has stepped in as possibly the best point guard in the NBA. While he didn’t come into the league with the innate feel for the passing game that Ricky Rubio is blessed with, he’s mastered the Spurs system to such a degree that he’s developed that sixth sense inherent in all special point guards.
- Gary Neal continues his recent shooting slump, shooting 2-for-8 and missing all his 3-point attempts. With Ginobili out and Boris Diaw in the starting lineup, the second unit lacked much of its firepower and playmaking. Normally an area of strength, a diluted bench gave the Spurs some difficulties in gaining significant separation from the Timberwolves. Amongst the second unit only Nando De Colo (six assists) and Aron Baynes (paving the way for multiple Tony Parker drives with solid screen work) logged positives in the plus-minus department.
- While Baynes sets some solid screens I haven’t seen it lead to a lot of opportunities rolling to the basket just yet. It’s a small sample size, and considering Minnesota frequently collapsed on the dive man (Splitter managed only five shots) it’s too soon to tell how Baynes will work in the pick-and-roll. However, he appeared more than willing and somewhat capable in playing a physical game with the Timberwolves living mountain — Nikola Pekovic.
- Kawhi Leonard had a fantastic 19-point, 10-rebound performance. He’s showing more comfort in the one and two-dribble pull-up game, not unlike the elder version of Michael Finley. The footwork, balance, and follow through are all much more natural and consistent than displayed at the beginning of the season. Perhaps equally as promising were the quick post move he made, and a multiple-move combination off the bounce that got him to the rim (though he failed to convert). The moves don’t have to be spectacular, since he will always supplement his scoring with a number of cuts, rebounds, 3-pointers, and points in transition. But every little step he takes raises his ceiling past anything we could have originally hoped for.
- Nando De Colo is nowhere near the same league a playmaker as Ricky Rubio, yet the two share similar skill sets and weaknesses — just at different levels of play. Both blessed with a fantastic feel for the game, their true potential as playmakers will never fully develop until they become enough of a scoring threat that defenses respect the possibility of a shot. The Spurs made a few mistakes with overeager rotations out to Rubio, and the second year point guard took advantage of all of them. But despite a nice assist line, Rubio’s inability to present the defense with a threat bogged down the Timberwolves offense at times. That same problem holds true for De Colo.
- When he’s in a slump Gary Neal becomes an easy target because there isn’t much to his game beyond scoring. His decision making as the primary ball handler is questionable at times, to say the least. His defense is wanting and his shot selection at times can make you cringe. But he continues to play simply because he’s potentially as potent a scorer as anyone off the Spurs bench. You have to get through some of the bad stuff to get to the good, which includes several comeback wins and early fourth quarters that put teams away for good thanks in part to his scoring binges.
- Though there was no chance he was playing, Manu Ginobili suited up against Minnesota because he forgot to pack a sports coat, which sounds like a convenient excuse for a player trying to get into a game before coaches are ready for him to.
- With three relative lightweights in the upcoming five games, judging the Rodeo Road Trip should be based off the quality of the team’s play, not necessarily the number of wins.