For three quarters, it was beginning to look like the San Antonio Spurs were in for a third disastrous game in a row. Despite being short-handed themselves, they were facing an even more shorthanded, five-win Minnesota Timberwolves team but continued their habit of playing down to the opponent. Fortunately, they found their resolve in the fourth quarter and rallied back from 16 down for the much needed 111-108 win to end their franchise-record seven-game homestand (thanks to that canceled Pelicans game) on a high note.
DeMar DeRozan came alive to lead the Spurs with 30 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists, and Jakob Poeltl shined in a starting role with 19 points, 8 rebounds and 4 blocks. Malik Beasley led the Timberwolves with 29 points.
- With LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Gay both out with hip issues, Poeltl got the start at center, and Drew Eubanks was his backup. Devin Vassell and Trey Lyles split the bulk of Gay’s minutes. Vassell answered the call early with 7 first quarter points to help the Spurs overcome — wait for it — yet another slow start. They finished the first quarter down 33-29 after being behind by as much as nine early.
- There’s no telling when/if Gregg Popovich will start Derrick White or do something different to try and stop these slow starts, but something has to change. At least for the two games against Memphis, Aldridge was the one who asserted himself in the first quarter and kept the game from getting out of hand too soon. Pop expects him to be out for a while, so someone else needs to step up before the bench comes in. Maybe the answer for now is DeRozan needs to assert himself early on offense instead of deferring and waiting his turn, because for the most part, Dejounte Murray, Lonnie Walker and Keldon Johnson have not been hot first-quarter shooters.
- As bad as the first quarter was, the second was even worse, with the Spurs getting down by as much as 14 as yet another team not known for its three-point shooting got hot on them, while they struggled mightily on both ends of the court. Overall Minnesota hit 9-18 threes in the first half to 3-13 from the Spurs for a 65-54 halftime deficit. The second quarter has often been the saving grace for the Spurs, but not in the last three games. If that strength starts going away while the slow starts persist, they’ll be in trouble.
- One of the more humorous technicals you’ll see, in the second quarter Jarred Vanderbilt went flying behind-the-basket and into the open area where the stands would usually be. He came back but left the ball behind instead of the bringing it to the ref, earning the Timberwolves’ second delay-of-game warning of the night, which is an automatic T. The Spurs will take any points they can get!
- A big part of the Spurs offensive woes in this one was Johnson and Walker were both in a serious shooting slump, combining for 8 points on 3-19 shooting. It wasn’t due to a lack of effort, but considering they often share the floor, that makes things even harder and could be yet another argument for changing up the starting lineup. Neither are consistent scorers yet, and that hurts a unit that already struggles as it is.
- Throughout the third quarter, the Spurs could never take much advantage of any misses from the Timberwolves, who always had an answer to anything the Spurs did. Any time the Spurs crept within single digits, there was an immediate response. A big reason for that was the Spurs couldn’t put together any extended scoring runs, either getting blocked or stripped on seemingly every attempt to get the rim.
- Minnesota finally cooled off in the fourth quarter, and the Spurs got aggressive and were rewarded by getting in the bonus just five minutes in. That and the appearance of Fourth Quarter DeMar helped the Spurs slowly chip away at what had been a 16-point deficit with a 20-2 run to gain their first lead of the game. D’Angelo Russell took over on Minnesota’s end to keep the Wolves close, and Ryan Saunders called a Hack-a-Jak to try and slow the Spurs offense down. It backfired as Poeltl made the first free throw, and DeRozan got the offensive rebound on the second one and scored for a three-point possession.
- Saunders used his coach’s challenge early in the third quarter on a seemingly innocuous foul call. Although he was successful, he may have wished he had saved it for the fourth quarter when all the whistles were going the Spurs way, including a questionable one on DeRozan’s final attempt of the night. He made one of the free throws to create the final score, forcing the Wolves to go for a three on their final attempt.
For the Timberwolves fans’ perspective, visit Canis Hoopus.
The Spurs are now headed to my new hometown of Houston to take on the rising Rockets. Tip-off will be at 7:00 PM on Fox Sports Southwest.