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Spurs start slow, can’t catch up, lose big to the Timberwolves

The Spurs tried to claw their way back after a disastrous start but ultimately didn’t have the firepower to keep up with the Timberwolves.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Minnesota Timberwolves David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs are now on a four-game losing streak after a poor effort in their visit to Minnesota. The Timberwolves simply outgunned the Silver and Black from outside on Jakob Poeltl’s return to action en route to an easy 115-90 win. San Antonio will now have three days off to regroup before facing some of the best teams in the league in the next few games.

The signs that things might not go the Spurs’ way on Thursday were there from the beginning. It was a nightmarish start of the game for the Silver and Black, as Minnesota was firing on all cylinders while San Antonio was stuck in mud on offense. The struggles on that end were making life harder on the other, as the Timberwolves were pushing the pace after misses and finding fastbreak or secondary transition opportunities in which they easily forced a switched for one of their shot creators to attack. It took the Spurs over four minutes to make a bucket and it would take them three minutes after that one to make their second. Luckily the bench came in and started to close the gap that at several times reached 19 points, or the game might have been over in the first quarter.

The second unit continued to chip away at the deficit in the second frame while the Wolves did enough to keep them from cutting it to single digits, mostly by hitting outside shots. It was a more normal, balanced game at that point, with the Spurs finding the energy they had lacked earlier and eventually getting some momentum going. Dejounte Murray tried to drive to the basket more, Drew Eubanks made some hustle plays and Keldon Johnson got himself to the line to get the Wolves’ lead to just five at one point. The teams traded buckets for a little while, but unfortunately Minnesota closed stronger. The Spurs went cold on offense and the threes started to fall again for the home team, which made it a 13-point game on a beautiful Karl-Anthony Towns drive to close the half.

There was hope for a comeback early in the third quarter. Gregg Popovich made an adjustment in how the team guarded Towns, who had scored 19 points in the first half, by having the quicker Keldon Johnson on him and help at the ready for when KAT attacked. The gambit mostly worked, as Towns would only score six points in the second half while getting progressively frustrated with the Spurs’ physical defense. The only thing San Antonio had to do to finally make a run after containing Towns and getting the Wolves’ lead back to single digits was get a few timely stops and hit a few threes. Unfortunately, both tasks were impossible to achieve for the Silver and Black on Thursday. Whenever the window was open for a comeback, at best they could just trade buckets — often twos for threes —and at worst they simply went cold while allowing runs.

The 15-point lead Minnesota had going into the final period quickly turned into a 20-point lead. The Spurs were not playing poorly, or at least not as poorly at they did in the first quarter, but they just couldn’t string together enough good possessions on both ends. When the defense had a good stretch, like it did when it kept the Wolves from scoring for over four minutes, the offense just couldn’t get going. The home team looked completely in control for most of the game, and that didn’t change late, as they closed it out comfortably to get the Spurs to a 4-11 record.

Game notes

  • It’s very hard to win a game when the opponent hits 21 three-pointers on 49 attempts. It’s pretty much impossible to do so when the Spurs shoot 6-for-32 at the same time. Asides from Devin Vassell and Keldon Johnson, who combined to shoot 4-for-10, the rest of the team went 2-for-22. Lonnie Walker IV missed nine of the 10 outside shots he took and specialist Doug McDermott missed four of his five. That was the game.
  • Jakob Poeltl provided some nice rim protection on his 15 minutes off the bench, but couldn’t really handle Towns’ perimeter game or find cutters. It’s his first game back and the matchup was terrible, so there’s nothing to worry about. Eubanks got the start, since Poeltl was on a minutes restriction, and did well in his second stint after struggling in the first quarter. Thaddeus Young was ineffective and only played five minutes. It will be interesting to see how the center rotation shakes up now that Poeltl is back.
  • Dejounte Murray had his worst game in a while and no one could really step up in his place in the starting lineup. Derrick White had four points on four attempts while Keldon Johnson had a very efficient 12 points that were simply not enough. The bench wings did their best to make up for the lack of scoring from the starters, but Walker was ice cold from outside and Vassell couldn’t get to the line to get that extra boost. Clearly the team needs Murray to be on his game to have a chance.

Play of the game

The funniest moment of the night came when Devin Vassell terrified the poor guy drying the floor after the Spurs got a steal at half-court that led to a breakaway dunk.

SVP awards

3rd place (1 point) - Lonnie Walker IV | 12 points, two assists, three steals

Walker was a disastrous 1-for-10 from outside but made four of his seven two-pointers and helped out in other areas. He needs to find the balance between being aggressive and out of control (three turnovers) but mostly he just needs to rediscover his stroke from beyond the arc, as he’s now missed 19 of his last 21 attempts from range.

2nd place (2 points) - Keldon Johnson | 12 points on five shots, four rebounds, three assists

Johnson took seven free throws while the rest of the team managed just 12. At one point he looked for his shot aggressively to the point of going full tunnel vision, but it’s hard to blame him when he’s one of the few Spurs who can get easy points at the line. He also did fine when matched up against Towns. Solid if unspectacular game from Big Body.

1st place (3 points) - Devin Vassell | 18 points, four rebounds, a block and a steal

Vassell was the Spurs’ leading scorer and he also played with more energy than most of his teammates. He had a couple of breakaway dunks, hit a couple of threes and mixed it up on defense. On a night in which the veterans didn’t have it, the sophomore wing proved that he’s a great bench piece who still hasn’t come close to reaching his ceiling.

Season leaderboard

1st - Dejounte Murray - 25pts

2nd - Devin Vassell - 17pts

3rd - Keldon Johnson - 14pts

4th - Jakob Poeltl & Thaddeus Young - 8pts each

5th - Derrick White - 7pts

6th - Doug McDermott - 5pts

7th - Drew Eubanks and Lonnie Walker IV- 2pts

9th - Bryn Forbes & Jock Landale- 1pt each

Next game: Vs. Suns on Monday

The Spurs will get three days off before facing one of the best teams in the West to kick off a four-game homestand.