Timberwolves 95, Spurs 101: The Stars at Night


A much better game than the drubbing the Minnesota Timberwolves suffered at home against the San Antonio Spurs last week, last night’s tilt was a perfect example of the gap between a promising team and a genuinely good one.

Against a team like the Spurs, the Wolves need just about everything to go right, including some unexpected things. Last night, that came in the form of an overall 10-for-13 game from Tayshaun Prince and Kevin Garnett, giving them both season highs and their first double-digit scoring performances of the year. Simply put, they’re not there to score and other teams know this. As such, Garnett’s surprisingly hot midrange shooting from his pet spot between the free throw line and the top of the key was a big part of the Wolves jumping out to a 10-0 lead to start the game.

But the Wolves weren’t the only team with a surprising big man with the Spurs’ Boban Marjanovic wrapping up his work as a James Bond henchman early enough to contribute 17 points on perfect 7-for-7 shooting. At 7-3, the dude is just patently ludicrous on the court. Unlike Kristaps Porzingis, who looks a little Reed Richards with his elongated limbs, Marjanovic has some beat on his bones. At first, it just looks like he’s Ersan Ilyasova, but then you realize the guy you think is Harrison Barnes is actually the 6-11 Gorgui Dieng. On top of the size, he’s got a soft, quiet touch right around the rim that just adds insult to injury since he could probably just place the ball in the bucket like a can of green beans above the oven. It makes me glad he’s on the Spurs because he seems exactly like the kind of giant, multi-skilled player another team would either take and try to make into a cornerstone starter (*cough* Darko Milicic *cough*) or get and then not know what to do with. But the Spurs are handling his rookie year perfectly — of course — unveiling him like an end-level boss off the bench for no more than 15 minutes a game and putting him in a position to succeed.

Plus, look at these hands:



Also very Spurs? Gregg Popovich getting tossed after a double technical with 1:13 left in the first half. It happened so quickly that I didn’t even see specifically what he was arguing about, but the actual call that was at issue is probably immaterial. Pop probably either had early dinner reservations somewhere or wanted to get to bed at a reasonable hour or maybe wanted to light a fire under his team, who had been playing well down to the level of their competition.

The sluggish start that spurred (yes, I know) Popovich’s ejection also galvanized the Wolves, who looked genuinely good through three quarters. Check out this beautifully geared defensive possession from midway through the second:

You can ignore the homer-ific Spurs booth there and just appreciate how well the Wolves switch and move around the floor to force a bad shot. That alone is a far cry from where they were last year, and it doesn’t so much have to do with something as straightforward as adding a good defensive big like Towns as it does with Garnett and Prince and Rubio quarterbacking the whole thing and everyone closing out.

In fact, the thing that really separates the Wolves playing well this year from playing badly seems to be floor spacing and floor discipline. Sure, you need guys to hit shots (and especially — for a team as dependent on the line as the Wolves — their free throws, which they did not do last night) but it seems like when the Wolves are doing well you can see that they’re controlling the space on the floor on both the offensive and defensive ends. Where this breaks down the most is when they have too many guys crashing the boards or guys floating in no-man’s-lands between spots. You could make the argument that pretty much the entire thing when it comes to basketball is opening and closing spots on the floor and doing it according to your design, rather than the other team’s. When the Wolves are doing that well, the 3-point shooting stuff doesn’t matter as much. It might be making it harder to do, but their spacing when things are working is actually not that bad.

Where the 3-point shooting thing really hurts them is down the stretch in tight games. As the Wolves faltered in the fourth and the Spurs righted the ship, the Wolves just couldn’t put the pressure on with shooting. The Wolves were 8-for-21 in the final quarter, and only three of those shots were 3-pointers, and all of them by Zach LaVine, and all of them were of the desperation variety. I know the standard refrain on 3-pointers from the team, which is that they don’t have the shooters, but they also need to run action that gets guys looks and not just big wide curls at the end of games.

The Wolves have attempted 80 corner 3-pointers this season (a third of the total attempts by Golden State, by the way), and 19 of those have been by Shabazz Muhammad, who’s hitting them at a 47.4% clip. You’ve got two gifted passers in Rubio and Towns, plus Nemanja Bjelica has shown good court vision if not always awareness. It just baffles me that you wouldn’t try to manufacture those looks more consistently throughout the game so you could go to them down the stretch.

In all, it was another loss on the road to the Spurs in a building where the Wolves have lost 21 of their last 22 games and where the home team hasn’t been beaten since March of last year. Sure, the Spurs only had to play at about 60% to beat the Wolves playing about 90% through three quarters, but for a developing team, you’ll take strong road efforts like this.

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5 Responsesso far.

  1. Mebert says:

    The broadcast I could watch had the Spurs announcers. I ended up turning off the game, I could not listen to it anymore. It was terrible.

    • Nick says:

      Completely understand. I live here in San Antonio. Sean Elliot and Bill Land are two of the biggest homers I have ever heard. If the Spurs miss a shot its because there was a foul and the ref didn’t call it. That being said I was at the game last night. Marjanovic swung the game for them. He is HUGE!

  2. Marshall Andersen DVM says:

    Glad we showed up to play–it was nice seeing us measure up against the spurs in that way, even if it was on their off-night..

  3. Rush Finki says:

    I know everyone hates hearing about development, but it does look like that’s still were we are as a team. You could tell at the beginning of the season the plan was to work on defense and not worry about offense at all. You could see that they were doing all iso’s with the only planned movement being something regarding starting possessions by having 2 off ball picks for 2 players to pop out on the wings, which is bare bones offense even for high school.

    Our defense was good enough that we still were winning a few. And with our defense looking very impressive, we started working on offense. Our first big losing slump seemed to correlate with some rule about making the extra pass. Doing whatever adjust we were doing to work on the offense made it worse at least initially. But we seem to be passing through that development phase and are actually showing some decent ball movement. Rubio is appearing to having more fun on the offensive side than he has at any point since his rookie year.

    So it looks like we are heading in the right direction, and hopefully getting more 3’s will be part of the future plans on offensive development. But I’d agree that if we don’t get there by the end of the season, we are off track. The argument that we don’t have the personal for it is absurd at this point as we have something like 2 guys on the entire team that shouldn’t be green lit for catch and shoots.

    And man, I miss Pekovic. Marjanovic was just bullying us out there. I prefer it when we have the biggest, strongest bully in the NBA on our team (not that Pek is bigger, but by all reports he’s stronger when healthy).

  4. pyrrol says:

    I know it’s the classic lowly player bursting fourth against the Wolves thing, but good for Boban (7 of 7 shooting–only missed one free throw!). I’m no doctor, but the guy looks like he has gigantism. There is something weird about how he’s put together. His hands are massive even for a guy who is 7’3″ (not just long, massive). Yet, he moves more smoothly than Gorgui, and has a soft touch that could inspire envy among more petite bigs. At the same time, this ‘rookie’ is 27 and has worked hard in Europe to build his game. Good for him. These coming out parties are too often hosted by the Wolves, but I like seeing guys work hard and succeed.

    I like Pop, but the idea of getting kicked out for complaining about calls in a home game in which you are getting most of the calls (we had 3 players with 5 fouls) is annoying. I buy the theory that he was trying to light a fire under his team, but might there be less ironic ways to do that?

    I like what you are saying here about spacing and controlling positioning on the floor on both ends. The thing is, though, that three point shooting is an integral part of spacing, of crafting the spacing you need on offense and getting the other team’s defense to honor it.

    Good point about Shabazz. Why can’t we get him more looks there? We need three point shooting to increase and he’s been doing well from the corner. We need to shoot more threes for spacing, and that will open up looks from all over the floor, including many more easy, point blank shots. It will allow us to get closer to maximizing Rubio’s passing abilities and ability to break down good defense with creative passes. More simply, too much 2 to 3, ‘we score 3 points to your every 2’ handicaps a team greatly. In some mathematical sense we are trying to play out of a hole every game because of how few threes we attempt.

    We need to get Bjelica on track and playing more minutes. I think there are ways of dong this but from the outside looking in, it doesn’t seem like we are doing them. Obviously, Bjelica takes responsibility here, but so too does Sam and while I’m sure Bjelica is very upset about his play, Sam doesn’t seem to mind losing what we could potentially be getting from him. Little things like this and not feeding Shabazz in the corner (or even playing Shabazz a consistent amount of minutes) are adding up, in part, to our three point problem. And the general struggles created by balance being thrown off by the three point issue (the spacing, the defense always being on top of us) create offensive struggles that feed right into easy points for opponents and defensive struggles.

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