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What we learned from the Spurs loss to the Timberwolves

The Silver and Black fall short in a back-and-forth shootout with Minnesota.

San Antonio Spurs v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

The shorthanded San Antonio Spurs lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night in a rematch of what was mostly a one-sided affair in round one. While their miraculous three-game winning streak ended, the good guys held pace with the starstudded trio of Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Rudy Gobert in a back-and-forth shootout.

Keldon Johnson dropped a season-high 27 points as every member of the starting lineup scored in double figures. Josh Richardson and Jakob Poeltl each recorded a double-double for the Silver and Black, and Keita Bates-Diop and Doug McDermott provided a much-needed spark as the combo forwards combined for 34 points off the bench.

After shocking the league with a 3-1 start and sneaking into third place in the Western Conference standings, San Antonio returned to reality with a predictable loss to a loaded playoff contender. Nevertheless, this roster refuses to roll over, and head coach Gregg Popovich and company taught us a ton about their makeup in game five of this young season.


  • Josh Primo and Devin Vassell sat against Minnesota on Wednesday night with minor injuries, leaving San Antonio shorthanded as they searched for their fourth straight win. Though missing your second-leading scorer and fulcrum of your bench unit would likely spell trouble for most teams, the Spurs dropped an efficient 122 points as if those absences were nominal. We know that isn’t true, and the pair of sidelined swingmen could have impacted the final score. But the steadfast structure of the offense gives the good guys a roadmap of well-defined principles to stick to regardless of available personnel. Gregg Popovich has emphasized prompt decision-making, unselfish passing, continuous movement, a breakneck pace, and sprinkling in several touches for Jakob Poeltl and Zach Collins to facilitate from the elbows. With the ball spending less time having the air dribbled out of it and more time exchanging hands on each possession, the Silver and Black have constructed a free-flowing offense that isn’t reliant on a heliocentric playmaker to light up the scoreboard. A lack of established advantage creators has necessitated this strategy, but it proved effective versus a playoff contender for the third consecutive matchup.
  • San Antonio used their sixth lottery selection in franchise history to bring Jeremy Sochan aboard this offseason. The ninth-overall pick missed Las Vegas Summer League because of COVID-19, struggled in the preseason, and found himself benched versus the 76ers after ten minutes of mistake-laden basketball. Scoring against set defenses is difficult when you don’t have a reliable jumper or advanced handle, which is part of the reason the 19-year-old was held silent in the half-court. Some fans were beginning to grumble after setting lofty expectations for Sochan, but he finally settled in this week. The rookie recorded a career-high 14 points on Monday and another 12 points on Wednesday after managing just nine points through his first three games. He did most of his damage in transition, outrunning the defense as teammates connected with him for wide-open layups and a handful of alley-oops. The three-ball is still a work in progress, though he hit a couple of uncontested looks in round two with the Timberwolves. As for the other end of the court, Sochan showed why the Spurs invested in his talents. He fronted post-ups, rejected dribble handoffs, effortlessly switched across positions, and stripped Anthony Edwards off the dribble when the guard called his number in isolation. Oh, and he made a terrific weakside block on Rudy Gobert.
  • Keldon Johnson has showcased his maturation as a scorer and facilitator this season, and he continued to do so as he recorded a season-high 27 points against the Timberwolves. The fourth-year forward developed into a knockdown stationary shooter a year ago, but he has taken that part of his game to new heights. Despite opponents having a thorough scouting report on him, Keldon has sped up his release, needing only millimeters of breathing room to launch a jumper. Even when defenders were on time to contest, they were still too late to make a difference. He has also flashed more shot versatility, nailing a few threes coming off dribble handoffs and pindowns. Johnson remains somewhat limited as a ball handler, though it has barely mattered since he has become adept at getting to his spots by using screens and finding holes in the defense with savvy cutting. With all the weight he dropped this summer, Keldon has been more dangerous on quick rips on the perimeter, and he put his improved burst on display with a massive slam over Jaden McDaniels. Three live-ball turnovers on drives into traffic demonstrated his tendency to force things at the rim. However, the Spurs have to be pleased that he has continued to make simple reads out of the pick-and-roll with crisp passes to shooters from one man away. All these baby steps will gradually lead to what looks like the makings of an incredible co-star for the foundational talent the front office is still searching for as they rebuild.