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Spurs vs. Timberwolves Final Score: anemic offense dooms San Antonio to 102-94 loss in Minnesota

The Spurs played with heart, but they didn’t have the outside shooting and the consistent defense needed to beat an elite opponent.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Minnesota Timberwolves Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t pretty but the Spurs managed to make it a game against the best teams in the league before running out of gas in the fourth and dropping their 15th straight, 102-94. Devin Vassell shined in his return to the starting lineup while Rudy Gobert set the tone on defense for the Timberwolves and punished San Antonio inside in a matchup between two rusty squads who didn’t show their best.

Gregg Popovich decided to shake things up on the 20th game of the season, sending Jeremy Sochan to the bench and starting Cedi Osman. The new-look Spurs struggled on offense to start, but their opponent wasn’t sharp either early on. The scoring was low and the pace glacial at times on what was a sloppy first quarter. Some flashes from Tre Jones brought some excitement for San Antonio and Naz Reid put some points on the board off the bench for the home team, which led by three after one.

Victor Wembanyama had a long stretch at center to start the second but looked a little lost on defense. Pop went to a zone to try to protect the rookie, but it didn’t really work, as Minnesota still got buckets. Devin Vassell fortunately got hot on the other end to keep things close. The Spurs stopped turning the ball over and the Wolves went cold at the same time, which allowed the visitors to take control. At the half, the Silver and Black were up seven, with three of their starters scoring in double digits.

Turnovers plagued the Spurs to start the second half and the Timberwolves pounced to put together a 9-0 run. Minnesota wasn’t playing inspired ball yet but they could still keep the score close, which didn’t seem like a good omen for San Antonio. Still, the guys in Silver and Black continued to play hard against an opponent that at times looked overconfident. Only one team was hungry for a win and it showed, especially during the ugly stretches of the game. With Vassell leading the way, the Spurs refused to go away.

The problem is effort can only do so much when the other guys have a massive edge in talent and familiarity. The Wolves got away with playing poorly for long stretches simply because they had another gear. When they needed to play well, they did, getting stops and making timely shots on command, like good teams do. They went on a run in the fourth and never looked back, despite San Antonio’s best efforts.

Observations

  • Pop’s starting lineup change was likely all about keeping good pairings together. Vassell and Wembanyama are the Spurs’ two best players and are developing some good chemistry. The team has done well Jones and Sochan have shared the court. It’s not the change most fans wanted, but you can see the logic behind it.
  • Despite playing at one of the league’s highest paces, the Spurs tend to start plays too late in the half-court. A lot of their 24-second violations and late shots are self-inflicted.
  • With Collins and Wembanyama splitting the minutes at center, Charles Bassey didn’t get playing time. Bassey’s energy and athleticism can affect games, he had a good game against the Pelicans and the Timberwolves play two bigs often, so his absence was a surprise.
  • Is 20 games enough to determine that Zach Collins just isn’t a reliable outside shooter? He even got some open corner threes but he couldn’t make them. Too many plays end with Collins catching the ball in the perimeter and that’s a problem.
  • The Spurs were right to let Kyle Anderson leave in free agency after his rookie contract was up. He never learned to shoot and became more of a tweener with age. He’s still fun, though. Slowmo does a little bit of everything and remains a unique player in a league that is becoming more homogenous every season.
  • Anthony Edwards just couldn’t buy a bucket for most of the game but he caused all sorts of trouble for the Spurs with his driving ability. He got Rudy Gobert a few offensive boards and dunks just by drawing the attention of several defenders.
  • The Wolves challenged Wemby a few times successfully at the rim and he looked a little frustrated. Then late in the third, he had a block on Naz Reid that looked more like a volleyball spike. It’s fun to see Victor show emotion with his play.
  • The game was a brick fest at times. It wasn’t surprising to see the Spurs miss a bunch of threes, but the Wolves are a decent shooting team. Eventually a few of those looks went in and that was enough to give Minnesota the edge it needed.

For the Timberwolves fan’s perspective, please visit Canis Hoopus.

The Spurs will host DeMar DeRozan and the Bulls on Friday at 7:30 p.m. CST. Bally Sports will televise the game.