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Spurs shine early, struggle late in impressive win over the Timberwolves

San Antonio is now on a three-game winning streak after dismantling the Wolves for three quarters and holding on late when the home team made a comeback attempt.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Minnesota Timberwolves Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The young Spurs sure like to make things interesting, don’t they? After leading by over 30 points going into the final period, San Antonio couldn’t simply cruise to a victory. Instead, the same late-game issues that almost cost them against the Pacers resurfaced against the Timberwolves and turned what should have been a blowout into a still impressive but closer 115-106 win.

The ending was a little rough, but the start of the game was nearly perfect for the Silver and Black. Like it happened to the Pacers and the 76ers, the Timberwolves simply weren’t ready to match San Antonio’s energy early on. The Spurs were pushing the pace to find easy buckets against a defense that took too long to get back. Everyone wearing Silver and Black was competing on defense and the boards, and Minnesota had no answers. The home team was simply uncomfortable playing a relentless opponent that was going deep into its bench and finding production. The Spurs didn’t do anything particularly complicated or executed some elaborate game plan to end the first period up 11. They simply played fast, moved the ball, and fought hard on every defensive possession.

At some point the Timberwolves were going to respond, but it took a while for it to happen. The second unit continued to be in control of the game to start the second period, finding ways to keep outhustling Minnesota and making the right plays. Things got so bad that the Target Center crowd started to boo its own team, which pushed the Wolves into making more of an effort. Their good stretch happened just as the Spurs’ offense went cold from the perimeter, and with not as many misses to turn into fastbreak points, a drought ensued. Fortunately, Minnesota only got to chip away at a lead that at one point had reached 20 points but still went into the break down 10 points.

The Wolves came into this game struggling in third quarters, and the Spurs looked good for most of the matchup, so it’s not shocking that San Antonio won the first frame of the second half. What was surprising is how lopsided the result was. A 14-0 run created separation again, with Minnesota looking ready to throw in the towel. The Spurs started running again and making life miserable on the half-court on the other end for a home team that was seemingly too apathetic to react. Both San Antonio’s starters and the bench were just getting whatever they wanted, as the lead kept ballooning to the thirties. After the first 36 minutes, the Spurs were up 32 and it seemed like the fourth quarter was going to be garbage time.

Alas, the Spurs are still learning how to take care of even gigantic leads well. The intensity understandably was lower as the team got a little complacent on defense, and a zone by the Wolves gave the offense a lot of issues. With Towns and D’Angelo Russell leading the charge, Minnesota mounted a comeback attempt. Had they had more time or actually tried to pressure the Spurs’ ball handlers like Indiana did, they might have actually made it suspenseful, but ultimately the hole they had dug for themselves early was fortunately too deep to crawl out of so late. San Antonio got its third win in four games and looked good doing it, at least until the last few minutes.

Game notes

  • We keep waiting for opponents to figure out these surprising Spurs, but it might be trickier than it seems. As an example, the keys to the game from the Wolves’ broadcast mentioned pace and the bench as big factors. If the announcers know that those are strengths for San Antonio, the coaching staff obviously does too, but matching the sheer energy the Spurs bring when they are at their best it’s tough.
  • A lot has been said about the bigs facilitating for this Spurs team, but it has also been great to see the perimeter players looking to feed the centers when they have good position close to the rim. Both Jakob Poeltl and Zach Collins finished the game with double-digits points, feasting near the bucket.
  • It wasn’t an efficient scoring night for Keldon Johnson, who finished with 18 points on 20 shots. He missed five of his six three-point attempts, a few of which came in the fourth quarter when nothing was falling for the Spurs. It will take some time for Johnson to figure out when trying to make something happen closer to the paint is a better option than firing from outside.
  • Devin Vassell came close to having a triple-double. Tre Jones was a pest on defense and ran the offense well. Jakob Poeltl was great on both ends. There were a lot of good performances in this one. Even the most ardent members of Team Tank will have to admit that it was a fun win.

Play of the game

Speaking of great performances, Jeremy Sochan had the best scoring game of his young career. The rookie made some plays on defense, like he usually does, but his constant movement on offense and his determination to beat the Wolves’ bigs down the floor stood out the most on Monday. There were a couple of these leak-outs that ended in buckets, but this one gets play of the night because of the great Keldon Johnson pass.

Next game: at Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday

The Wolves will have the chance to avenge this loss when the two teams meet again in a couple of days.