The San Antonio Spurs outlasted the Minnesota Timberwolves, 115-106, extending their winning streak while improving to 3-1 to begin what was supposed to be a rebuilding year. More significant challenges lie ahead for these youngsters, but the good guys have found a smooth cadence on their first road trip of the season.
Devin Vassell led the Silver and Black with 23 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists, closely followed by 18 points, three boards, and four dimes from Keldon Johnson. Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell paced Minnesota with a combined 52 points, 16 rebounds, and 12 assists on the second night of a back-to-back.
- Tre Jones always has a little extra incentive to perform well when he returns to Minnesota, and the third-year point guard provided the Spurs a steady hand in his homecoming. His feathery floater, dependable playmaking, and pestering defense have helped him overcome his diminutive stature, but draining catch-and-shoot threes has added another dynamic to his game. Though Jones is the most reliable ball-handler and decision-maker on the roster, his newfound capability to operate without the rock has afforded other prospects much-needed on-ball reps.
- Jeremy Sochan scored eight points in the first six minutes, outrunning the opposition in transition for uncontested layups, cutting the rim for an alley-oop, and curling around a screen for a finish over the outstretched arms of Rudy Gobert. The rookie finding some rhythm was a welcomed sight for Spurs fans after head coach Gregg Popovich benched him before halftime against the Sixers. Fouls plagued the ninth overall pick in his first couple of contests, but he played sound defense, coming up with deflections in the passing lanes while making timely rotations.
- San Antonio caught another opponent off guard with their breakneck pace, constant movement, and unselfish passing as they outscored the Timberwolves 39-28 in the first quarter. Though most of their players lack the handle or burst to put consistent pressure on the rim off the dribble, the Spurs relied on relentless cutting, rolling, and offensive rebounding to score 67 points and convert five and-ones by halftime. Having more talent isn’t enough to send the good guys packing, and Minnesota became the latest team to learn this lesson.
- The Spurs torched the Pacers and Sixers from beyond the arc last weekend, shooting a ludicrous 47.8% on 34.5 three-point attempts per game over their back-to-back slate. We discussed how that efficiency is unsustainable over extended periods and how elite ball movement could curb the inevitable regression to the mean in the game preview this morning. Sure enough, San Antonio came back down to earth in this matchup. But the Silver and Black also passed at an elite level, building a lead as large as 20 points behind 21 first-half assists.
- Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert appeared astonished that the Spurs didn’t roll over and waive the white flag at the outset of the matchup. The All-Star centers had an obvious advantage on paper over the visiting frontcourt. But San Antonio played physical basketball, boxing out with purpose and fronting the post to refuse easy entry passes. Towns flailed at the first sign of contact to get to the line and complained when the officials rightfully swallowed their whistles. Gobert was virtually useless to Minnesota, spending his minutes looking disinterested while getting some cardio in on the side.
- Minnesota gave basketball fans a clinic on how not to play defense during two-and-a-half hours of brutal basketball. Kudos to the good guys for executing their well-designed game plan, but where do we start with the Timberwolves? They ball-watched, lost their men on backdoor cuts, overcommitted on closeouts, miscommunicated on fastbreaks, died on screens, missed rotations, committed pointless fouls, fell for ball fakes, and found a body when a shot hit the rim. Trading for Rudy Gobert was supposed to bring the Wolves another step towards title contention, but San Antonio looked like the team competing for hardware.
- Keldon Johnson scored at least 20 points in 12 straight games entering this contest, but he narrowly missed that mark as he recorded 18-3-4 in 34 minutes. The Big Body now owns the 18th longest streak in franchise history, one that all-time greats like Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Kawhi Leonard never matched during their tenure in Silver and Black. Johnson should have plenty of chances to surpass that number as the undisputed primary scoring option for San Antonio.
- Devin Vassell has been on a heater since his season-opening dud against Charlotte. The third-year guard has posted 22.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 4.7 assists on .471/.520/.875 shooting splits over his last three games. While he has flashed a refined handle, he has lived off dribble handoffs, quick rips, and catch-and-shoot opportunities. His well-defined skill set has made him successful up to this juncture, and he is gradually molding into an archetype reminiscent of Richard Hamilton or Klay Thompson. Vasell might not reach the heights of those All-Star swingmen, but he can play a similar role for this young Spurs squad.
For the Timberwolves fans’ perspective, please visit Canis Hoopus.
The San Antonio Spurs have a day off to enjoy Minneapolis before returning to the Target Center for another matchup with the Timberwolves on Wednesday.