The San Antonio Spurs lost 95-108 to the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night at the AT&T Center to conclude their regular season with a record of 58-24. This contest was the Spurs' third consecutive loss and served to break the Timberwolves' 16-game losing streak. The Spurs only managed to win three of their last ten games to close the regular season. Boris Diaw is out till at least the second round. Stephen Jackson was seemingly waived at random. Tony still hasn't looked like MVP Tony since coming back from his injury. Gary Neal has been fighting injuries all year long. Manu has been out with a small tear in his hamstring. Danny Green is slumping. The Spurs' defense and offense haven't looked right for weeks. And just to disrespect Lady Luck, the Spurs signed Tracy McGrady. The guy is best known for never making it out of the first round. Is it time to panic? Are we panicking??? No, I don't think so.
The game against the Timberwolves was fruitless in every aspect, as was expected. The Spurs entered the contest locked into the second seed; there was nothing to play for and they played as such. Each of the 12 dressed players received nine or more minutes. Tiago Splitter was given the night off. Some of the lineups that Pop played were destined for failure, especially the one that featured Matt Bonner and DeJuan Blair in the fourth quarter.
However, Pop did play a lineup to close the first half that is definitely worth mentioning. It's the reason I do not think it's time to panic. With 6:13 left in the second quarter, down 38-42, Pop subbed in Manu, Bonner and Duncan to join Tony and Kawhi on the floor. This group played the remainder of the period. The last time Tony, Tim, Manu and Kawhi took the floor together was 11 games ago, in a win against the Nuggets.
11 games ago, the Spurs had won 9 of their past 12 and seemed to be peaking at just the right time. Then Manu pulled his hamstring and the first paragraph of this recap followed. So, how did the Spurs look with four of their five closers on the floor after all this time away? They picked up right where they left off. In those last six minutes of the half, they outscored the Timberwolves 23-14. While the Spurs scored a whopping 37 points in second, it doesn't do the Spurs' closers justice. They were on pace to score 46 in the quarter.
Offensively, they looked impeccable. While one could argue their defense was less than stellar, I would make the case that the Timberwolves simply had a fantastic shooting night. The Timberwolves are one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the league yet managed to hit 41% of them against the Spurs. Rubio shot 26% from distance this season and made three of five tonight. Let's just pretend that didn't happen.
Although Manu Ginobili's box score is underwhelming, he looked spry on the court. After the game, Manu said, "I felt good. The part where the tear was felt great. Condition-wise, I only played 12 minutes, but those 12 minutes felt good. These next 3 days are going to be great for me. I need to play with the team again. These last few days I've only been playing one-on-one with the video guys because my teammates were on the road."
During the season, when healthy, this Spurs team seemed unstoppable. Injuries destroyed the team's momentum and prevented the players from establishing any kind of defensive or offensive rhythm to close the season. The first round opponent is insignificant. The question is, which Spurs team is going to show up to that first game? If the Spurs show up healthy, and I realize it's definitely an 'if,' it's going to be a quick, victorious series for the Spurs, regardless of their opponent. However, if the Spurs limp into the playoffs with a limited Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, it's going to be a struggle. The Spurs are good enough to give their first round opponent a difficult series even at half strength, but it'd be a shame given their potential when healthy.
Those six minutes of Tony, Manu, Kawhi and Tim were more than enough to give me hope that this team can turn it around with their best on the floor. The Spurs will have until Sunday to heal and get back into playing shape. We'll just have to wait and see which Spurs squad takes the court Game 1.
-- Tim Duncan is the only Spur that peaked as the regular season came to a close. In 27 minutes, he scored 17 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. It seems most have spent the entire regular season praising Tim for his age-defying play, so we might as well conclude the season by reiterating that he has been unbelievable this year. At least Tim is 100% healthy. I'll take that and hope the younger guys can heal in time.
-- Each game, the jumbo-tron gives someone notable in the crowd a cameo. It's normally a three second shot of David Robinson, injured Manu Ginobili, injured Parker, or tonight, Tracy McGrady in street clothes. They always seem to do it when the opposition is shooting a free throw and it bothers me every time. It creates this 'Boooo...YEAH...Boooo' from the crowd, and I feel as if all those not looking at the jumbo-tron are left perplexed. Why not find a more opportune time for the cameo so the crowd can cheer for the person of note undeterred by the game? Just an observation.
-- This is normally Aaron's territory so I hope I don't step on his hash, but I really enjoyed watching Neal's pregame shoot-around. It consisted of two guys attempting to guard him all over the court. An assistant coach would pass Gary the ball after he found a way to get open, and then he'd go one-on-two and attempt to score. After he made three shots, he'd get a free throw break, and then it was one-on-two time again. Gary torched the two guys. It was entertaining to watch them struggle to catch their breath as Gary drained free throws.
-- During Manu's post game interview, his tiny twins walked into the locker-room. They're only three years old or so. I noticed them because while Manu was answering questions, I was distracted by faint whispers of, "Papa, Papa" coming from behind me. I turned around and the two little guys were attempting to quietly get their father's attention through the media crowd. It was pretty cute / funny. Manu eventually heard them quietly calling for him and ended the interview.
-- I stayed up to watch the game that decided which team the Spurs would face in the first round. With 16 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, Houston down by 3, Time Warner made my TV turn blue. Apparently, this was a Time Warner update that was not optional and it affected everyone that was foolish enough to pay them for the ability to watch games such as the one that they caused me to miss. As my twitter blew up, I tried to follow the game online. According to tweets, Chandler Parsons hit an unbelievable 3-pointer to send the game into overtime. With 15 seconds remaining in overtime, Time Warner decided that it was time for my TV to stop being blue. At this point, the game was over and the Lakers had won. Time Warner and I are not on good terms.
-- So, the Spurs will face the Lakers in round one. As I noted above, the Lakers are inconsequential. If the Spurs show up healthy, they win easily. How close this series actually is will simply depend on the Spurs' health and there's no way to predict that. We'll just have to wait impatiently for Sunday to arrive.
Please check out CannisHoopus for the Wolves' perspective.