Sunday night, the Spurs squared off against the Minnesota Timberwolves in San Antonio. The Spurs were without Manu Ginobili and Tiago Splitter, so Popovich again chose to start Danny Green and Boris Diaw while bringing Marco Belinelli off the bench. The Spurs played well in the first half, but costly turnovers and offensive rebounds allowed the Timberwolves to hang around despite San Antonio shooting a blistering 58% from the field in the half.
San Antonio did a great job of harassing Kevin Love and Kevin Martin throughout the game. Diaw followed a great defensive performance against Dirk Nowitzki with another incredible performance on Kevin Love. He consistently beat Love to his spots and Pop made sure the rest of the team gave support every time Love did manage to receive the ball.
What's gotten into Boris Diaw?
He saw a guru in India, became an offensive shoot-first threat, and was named team-MVP by Tim Duncan after his great showing vs the Mavs. But it's not just his scoring that's raising eyebrows this year. Boris has put his entire game together.
Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and the rest of the Spurs stayed glued to Kevin Martin. Martin is a dangerous shooter, but he's not athletic enough to create good looks for himself going one-on-one against athletic specimens like Kawhi or Danny. Love and Martin combined to make just five of their 26 shots from the field and their frustrations took a toll on the rest of the team.
It felt as if the Spurs were moments away from blowing the Timberwolves out in the first half, but to their credit, Minnesota managed to keep it close. Nikola Pekovic scored 14 in the opening half and Alexey Shved had eight to help Minnesota only trail by three going into intermission.
In the third quarter, San Antonio's defense tightened and the Timberwolves lost their will to compete. The Spurs held Minnesota to just 35% shooting in the quarter, and the Spurs' defenders swarmed the court and did a great job of helping each other. It was as close to defensive perfection as I've seen the Spurs get this year. The Timberwolves couldn't find clean looks at the basket. The Spurs doubled Kevin Love as the pass was still in the air and their recovery to shooters when the ball was kicked out was spot-on.
The Spurs' superb defense led to transition opportunities that San Antonio capitalized and they shot 61% in the third quarter. Tim's jumper looked good, finally, and he made four of five shots in the quarter. Kawhi also played a great third on both ends. While pestering Kevin Martin into missing five of his six shots in the quarter, Kawhi made four of five on the other end to score eight points.
Once the Spurs took control of the game, Minnesota seemed to accept the loss. It's been the way their season has gone thus far. They've been unable to get above the .500 mark and the frustration, or maybe depression, was very evident. They start games well but are in the bottom of the league in points scored in the fourth quarter. I think the Wolves thought they needed the lead going into the fourth to have a chance, and when the Spurs shut them down in the third, it was as if they knew there was no way they'd be able to mount a comeback in the fourth. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The Spurs improved to a West-leading record of 29-8 while Minnesota once again failed to get over the .500 hump, falling to 18-19 for the year for the 10th seed in the West. Up next, the Spurs will face the Pelicans tomorrow night in New Orleans. Pop managed the team's minutes very well so the Spurs should be fairly fresh for the SEGABABA.
- Danny Green left the game in the second quarter with a sprained index finger on his non-shooting hand and did not return. After the game, Pop said that Danny would not make the trip to New Orleans. The injury is not supposed to be serious, but I assume an MRI will be taken and we will not know the severity of the injury until it is studied. The Spurs are already without Manu Ginobili and Tiago Splitter, so losing Danny Green is definitely not optimal. I hope the Spurs do not rush Manu back because of Danny's injury. Cory Joseph played serviceable minutes in Danny's place tonight.
- Jeff Ayres and Matt Bonner filled in for Tiago Splitter nicely. Ayres continued his great work on the boards. He finished with eight points and seven rebounds in 19 minutes of action. He seems to be getting much more comfortable with the team. At the beginning of the year he looked a little lost on both ends. He has now settled in and is performing his role very well. Bonner came off the bench and scored 14 points in 21 minutes. He made four of his five three-pointers that helped San Antonio keep control of the game. Bonner is a nice luxury for this deep Spurs team. If he misses his first few, there's no harm done and Pop doesn't feel the need to keep him on the court any longer than completely necessary. However, if he hits his first few, his floor-spacing can change the game.
- Enough cannot be said about Boris Diaw's defensive effort in the last two games. Dirk and Love are the type of stretch-fours that historically have destroyed the Spurs. As Jesus Gomez recently wrote, perhaps the Spurs have finally solved the riddle. Even without Manu and Tiago, the Spurs were able to win their last few games comfortably because of Diaw's lock-down defense. If the Spurs really have found an answer to the stretch-four, the league is in big trouble.
- Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard each stepped up for the undermanned Spurs. Tony finished with 14 points and a season-high 10 assists. Tim filled the stat sheet with 15 points, eight rebounds, five assists and four blocks. In addition to shutting down Kevin Martin, Kawhi led the Spurs in scoring with 17 points, grabbed six rebounds, dished five assists, had two steals and two blocks. Since the Spurs lost Tiago to an injured shoulder, Kawhi has really stepped up his game and it's great for the Spurs. The silver lining to the Tiago injury may end up being that Kawhi was forced to step up and in the process, regained some confidence he may have lost during his rocky start to the season.
- Marco Belinelli played great, but he's been doing it all season so I almost find myself taking him for granted. He had 13 efficient points on eight shots and did a great job of managing the team with the starters resting. In previous seasons, life without Manu was a terrible one for the second unit. Without Manu, the second unit looked lost. They wouldn't be able to execute their offense and the game turned into a sloppy mess, destroying the Spurs' flow. But now that the Spurs have Marco, the second unit doesn't miss a beat. The offense flows and good shots are created. That was a heck of a signing for the Spurs.