Timberwolves 96, Spurs 107: Revenge of the routine

Benjamin Polk —  January 12, 2011 — 4 Comments

There are lots of ways to lose to the San Antonio Spurs. You know this already. Tim Duncan might hit a buzzer-beating three. Manu Ginobili might perform a series of increasingly uncanny bodily contortions,  each ending with a basketball feathering through the hoop. That legendary defense might incrementally, unobtrusively increase its constriction, leaving you, at games end, suddenly suffocated and dry. The Wolves are getting to know these facts intimately: you might be called for a phantom three-point foul; you might be massively out-coached in the games waning moments. The list is endless.

But in all their years of monolithic fourth-quarter domination, not to mention relentless, bug-eyed ref-baiting, I swear I have never seen the Spurs draw five technical fouls on their opponent in the span of 30 seconds. But this happened on Tuesday night, in a fairly crucial moment of the third quarter, the Wolves having just pared a double-digit Spurs lead to six. And the best part: through some trick of alchemy or cold fusion or psychedelic imagination, two of those techs were called on two different Timberwolves simultaneously. By the same official! It was as if every subatomic particle of Stern-ian behavior modification became concentrated in Ken Mauer’s whistle in one decisive moment. At this very instant, somewhere in between Kurt Rambis being ejected for arguing said act of visionary officiating and Kevin Love getting t’d for slapping his hands together, this game entered an altered zone. Ginobili hit four consecutive free-throws. Bill Laimbeer was suddenly an NBA head-coach. The smiling, fired up Wolves embarked on a run of brazen, occasionally inspired play.

To be clear: what happened at 8:36 of the third quarter was insane. But let’s also be honest with one another. After three games worth of close calls, the Spurs seem to have finally mastered the vexing (for them, somehow) art of playing the Wolves. That their approach to this task was so nonchalant and that they never managed that one crushing run should not obscure the fact that the Spurs utterly owned Tuesday’s game from start to finish.

The reason is simple and it has nothing to do with technical fouls. Said the freshly ejected Rambis:

They execute their sets, they keep their spacing and they move the basketball. It’s very difficult to defend the myriad actions that they have, with the talent that they have, when they’re playing that way. You’ve got to be on your toes, ready to execute everything. [You've got to be] very exacting, very purposeful. And you’ve got to be relentless with it because you’ve got to do it for 24 seconds and then you’ve got to finish it off with a rebound.

Needless to say, Kevin Love’s fanatical board-work notwithstanding (another 20-20: boooring), the Wolves do not do any of these things. They still struggle to execute their sets and move the ball. Their guards and bigs were still fairly hapless against the pick-and-roll, setting in motion a depressing chain of indecisive help and late rotations that invariably culminated in uncontested Spurs shots. Their starting point guard is still an NBA backup; and their backup point guard is still playing unwatchable basketball.

As the second half wore on and the burst of passion that had followed the tech bonanza slowly faded, a depressing pall descended on the arena, like the melancholy that comes over a person on that last, exhausted day of a particularly meaningful vacation.  The Spurs’ displays of sublime team basketball have grown so commonplace, so routine as to become as plainly factual as a chilly, gray Monday morning. Just the team to temper your rushes of optimism with medicinal doses of everyday life. Doesn’t feel good.

Benjamin Polk

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4 responses to Timberwolves 96, Spurs 107: Revenge of the routine

  1. Our gaurd play has been really hard to watch. Luke did an okay job last night but he is inconsistant and Flynn should just sit for awhile until he shows in practice that he can actually play at a level that is NBA calibur. I never thought that I would actually miss Bassy. I don’t know if Ricky Rubio is any kind of answer either. It would seem to me that the wolves would be better off packaging something to get a solid vetran point gaurd. But does that even excist? Is there one out there that the Wolves could even get?

  2. I think that this team is always going to struggle defensively with the current personnel, and Rubio is only going to make things worse. Love will never be a good defender because he simply lacks the athleticism and quick feet, and Darko seems inconsistent and unathletic as well.

  3. To me, one of the most remarkable things about the game was that Manu Ginobili was shockingly good at boxing out Kevin Love when no other Spur seemed capable of it. Manu would scrap his way in front of Love, crouch down low in a “crab” stance with his arms out wide, and then backwards-sumo-push him all the way out past the free throw line.
    It was pretty amazing to watch during the two or three times it happened. Somehow, though, the Spurs still ended up with Matt “looks like somebody’s dad” Bonner trying to keep K-Love off the glass for half the game.

  4. I’ve actually heard really positive things about Rubio’s defense. That is all coach K could talk about after they played.

    Defense is overblown as an athleticism thing. Yes you need a certain extent of athleticism but no one should kid themselves if they think Paul Pierce and Ray Allen are the two best athletes on the planet because they are simply not. Paul Pierce is less athletic than our favorite Beasley yet he is one of the 10 best perimeter defenders in the league.

    There is a lot of want and desire that goes into defense and that is why so many players get a lot better at defense the older they are, which is why I’m not so worried about this teams future defensive success.

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