Back from what we’ll call the In-season Tournament break, the well-rested, healthy Spurs were fresh off plenty of practice, ready to put the last 14 games behind them and get back on the winning track, but they would have to do it against the somewhat surprising top team in the West: the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Both teams looked rusty out of the gate, with the score sitting at just 4-1 in the Spurs’ favor after three minutes before they finally found some life. The Spurs did almost all of their damage down low, with 20 of their 22 points coming from the paint (the other two were free throws). Zach Collins had 8 of those points, but the Spurs also shot 0-6 from three. The Timberwolves weren’t much better but still had 3 threes in the quarter, and that along with a quick six-point burst off the bench from Naz Reid spotted Minnesota a 25-22 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The shooting struggles continued for both teams to start the second quarter, more so the Spurs against the Wolves’ zone defense. However, after a Gregg Popovich timeout, Doug McDermott and Devin Vassell finally broke the ice from three for the Spurs, with Vassell’s second one tying things up at 36 apiece with under six minutes to go and kicking off a 7-0 run to put the Spurs back in front. McDermott provided two more threes, and with Rudy Gobert spending much of the first half on the bench in foul trouble, the Spurs continued to attack down low to lead 53-46 at halftime, capped by Keldon Johnson running the court for a layup at the buzzer.
But, as is always the case, the real test would come in the third quarter, where the Wolves are third best team in the league while the Spurs are (unsurprisingly) the worst. It was the same ol’ Spurs struggle to start the second half with no effort on defense and turnovers on offense, forcing a Pop timeout after Minnesota opened on a 7-0 run. Overall, it was a 12-2 Wolves run before the Spurs got five points quick off a couple of steals to briefly retake the lead, but another 7-0 Minnesota run forced another Pop timeout. The lead was stretched out to as much as seven before Vassell got going again with seven straight points to tie things back up at 71 apiece heading into the fourth quarter.
Unfortunately, the momentum was still with the opponent. After trading the lead for a few minutes, the Wolves started getting hot from three, going on a 16-2 run to get to the lead out to 12 at 91-79. Even when they missed, Gobert was there to clean things up, while on the other end the Spurs kept launching and missing threes. Minnesota was content to keep trading buckets with the Spurs from there, handing them a 94-102 loss and extending the losing streak to 15.
While not an unexpected result and far from their most frustrating loss, it was unfortunate that the Spurs finally held an opponent to a low scoring night (by today’s standards, at least) but couldn’t take advantage on the other end. It will take a good game on both ends and no more second half meltdowns for the Spurs to end this downward spiral.
- Vassell moved back to the starting lineup for the first time since November 14 after missing three games with a sore groin and coming off the bench for the last five. Also, in a very curious move by Pop, he moved Jeremy Sochan (who is healthy) to the bench for only the fourth time in his career, but not in the change you would think. Most would have expected the move to be to add a point guard in Tre Jones, but instead, Cedi Osman was Sochan’s replacement, creating a line-up that hadn’t recorded a single minute together before tonight. That group ended up being outscored 17-21 in the game, winning their first quarter stint 10-9 but starting the third quarter 7-12.
- A big reason for the Spurs’ halftime lead (beyond some rough shooting from the Timberwolves, including missing several open threes) was for once, they weren’t the team struggling with turnovers. They only had three to Minnesota’s nine, and while the Spurs had only managed two more points off turnovers despite the disparity, they also had a lot more chances to score because of that and seven offensive rebounds, shooting 22-53 in the half vs. just 16-39 for the Wolves. It was a different story in the second half, with the Spurs committing 7 turnovers compared to just two for the Wolves.
- It was a rough night for Victor Wembanyama, who hadn’t played in nearly a week after missing their last game and the long break. The Spurs’ shaken-up lineups failed to find him all night, and on the rare occasion they did, he suffered from butterfingers, with passes going through his hands and out of bounds. Overall, he scored just 12 points to go with 10 rebounds, 1 assist, block and steal.
Play of the Game
Per usual, the second half was a stinker, so how about Johnson at least trying to give the Spurs momentum at the half by being aware of the clock, outhustling the defense and big-bodying his way to the bucket at the buzzer?
COUNT IT!— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) December 7, 2023
and KJ is off to the locker room! pic.twitter.com/At7hTgTHww
Up Next: Friday vs. Chicago Bulls
The Spurs will have a chance to avoid tying their franchise record of 16 straight losses against a Bulls team that as struggled overall but may be finding their stride, having won three straight. (Hmm, a struggling team finding their stride just before arriving in San Antonio, where have we seen that before?) Tip-off will be at 7:30 PM CT on Bally Sports.