Timberwolves 91, Spurs 105: Don’t Worry About Your Mama, the Spurs Will Take You To School

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 6:  Pau Gasol #16 of the San Antonio Spurs and Ricky Rubio #9 of the Minnesota Timberwolves talk before a game on December 6, 2016 at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN – DECEMBER 6: Pau Gasol #16 of the San Antonio Spurs and Ricky Rubio #9 of the Minnesota Timberwolves talk before a game on December 6, 2016 at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)

This is what experience looks like when it collides with youth. Despite missing Tony Parker, the San Antonio Spurs started an NBA Finals MVP, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and an NBA All-Star — and that’s just Kawhi Leonard. The rest of their starters boast 11 All-Star appearances and 3 championships. Given the deep, rich structure of the team, it doesn’t even really matter that they started Nicolas Laprovittola at point guard — living proof that that the Spurs can pluck any indie rapper from his barista job and make him a competent NBA player.

(And listen, Argentinean Laprovittola stans: I don’t speak Spanish, but I understand that he won the FIBA Americas League championship in 2014. Making light fun of his hair and beard and tattoo is just a way for me to cope with the fact that the Spurs can spin just about anything into gold.)

I mean, one of the Spurs most outwardly useless players is David Lee, a two-time All-Star and member of the 2015 champion Golden State Warriors. The Wolves most outwardly useless player is Adreian Payne, who’s just barely a two-time Adreian Payne. The Spurs are confident enough in the structure of their team that they can bring Patty Mills — who I’m confident would handily start on the Wolves under Thibodeau — off the bench when Parker is injured and let MC LaProveItToYa run the show. Oh and Patty Mills just had a smooth 15 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds in 26 minutes, ending up at a team-high +29.

This was, in short, not a game with the level of drama we’ve come to expect from recent outings, with big leads and massive collapses. Instead, the Wolves got out to a quick 9-point lead midway through the first, at which point Gregg Popovich subbed in a platoon of four bench players because Popovich is the kind of coach who can do that without it seeming desperate. This is the scaffolding the Spurs have built meticulously over years and years. If the starters aren’t pulling their weight, they’re going to sit and the bench will go to work.

With a minute left in the first half, the Spurs took a one-point lead. They went into the break down three, but nobody seemed unduly concerned about it on the San Antonio side. In the third, Kawhi Leonard started cooking, scoring 10 points on 3-for-3 shooting from the field and 4-for-4 shooting from the line. He ended the night with 31 points in 35 minutes on 11-for-15 shooting. Not gaudy — it was no 60 points in 29 minutes like Klay Thompson put up last night — but perfectly Spurs-y.

When Flip Saunders was in Thibodeau’s current position, he would often mention the Spurs as a model for what the Wolves culture should become, but now, it’s not at all clear what direction the Wolves are headed as a team, culture-wise. Their culture isn’t going to change (or really, given their history, develop) overnight, but it could go a number of ways. Thibodeau’s Bulls teams were hard-nosed. Popovich’s Spurs are tough, but in a quiet way. The Clippers are assholes. The Grizzlies grind you down. The Warriors are flashy.

In some ways, Towns seems to read as someone who would work on the Spurs in the mold of Duncan, although Garnett also brought some fire out of him. But Wiggins is a different kind of player, maybe akin to Leonard, but seeing Leonard definitely makes you appreciate how far he still has to go. LaVine is cocky and edgier than any of the other starters. Can all these personalities find their way into an identity together? If you asked them, I feel like Towns would say he has to be that leader, the one to set the tone. LaVine would probably crack a joke. Wiggins probably wouldn’t say anything. Somehow, that all has to become one answer, but it wasn’t happening tonight.

There’s a reason the Spurs were 12-0 on the road coming into this game, and are now 13-0. The Wolves’ win against the Hornets was a step in the right direction, a hint that the team has the fiber it takes to come together and overcome big odds. Tonight, that grit never showed up, and it’s going to have to if they’re going to grow.

Sidenote: Thank you Ben Schleuss for suggesting I make an Eraserhead Photoshop of Spurs forward Kyle Anderson. I have little doubt there is a lady in his radiator.


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6 thoughts on “Timberwolves 91, Spurs 105: Don’t Worry About Your Mama, the Spurs Will Take You To School

  1. What is going on with this team? We started tonight off playing offense in the new, ‘OK, let’s finally let Rubio create’ mold. By the third quarter we’d devolved back into, ‘Have Ricky dump the ball and everyone stand while one or two players try to do something against good defense.’ Bizarrely enough, the latter has been the default for the Wolves all season, and a glorious ray of light exception is simply letting Rubio play like he has every season of his career. Some have noted that Rubio is playing with less joy this season and speculate that it is about the passing of his mother. I don’t know, but it would seem like basketball would be a place to escape that loss and feel joy. I think it is pretty clear that Thibs has sucked at using Rubio and our players on offense in general, for that matter. They’ve all gotten frustrated and who knows what their individual explanations for our struggles would be and if they would involve coaching and system at all. But I think Rubio has taken it personally. It hurts him that he can’t play the way he was meant to, even with all this firepower. And Thibs’ lack of trust hurts him. It has him down, and it has me down. In this game, it was super fun to watch early. Flashy even, but it wasn’t all show–we were playing well and got a lead. Then we fell right back into zero offense, dump the ball off sets for the rest of the game. Why? Did the players just refuse to move without the ball suddenly? Did we forget to pass? Did Rubio feel lazy and just decide to dump the ball off instead of probing the D for good looks? I don’t get it.

    No, the issue isn’t losing to the Spurs. It’s how we lost to them. It’s how we appeared to already forget what kept us competing in the last game. It’s committing to a style of play that will guarantee underachievement.

    Did Dunn switch Gatorade (R) flavors or something? He shot 80 something %. He looks totally different. And his shot technique looked identical every time! In all seriousness, this is a fun and encouraging development. Still, you don’t go from a 20% shooter to a 80% shooter overnight, and in fact, no one is an 80% shooter, so he’s going to cool off. But I didn’t even know he could get hot, so this is good. I think he showed slightly better instincts with passing and Basketball in general than the amazingly low bar he’s set for himself this season, too. But really, if he wasn’t shooting and scoring like he was there would be precious little to be excited about. His performance was all about surprise efficient scoring and not about great D or running the O well or passing in a way that would put any pressure on a defense. In other words, Dunn still isn’t going to be a big scorer and that was his main value tonight, so while it looks like he’s coming out of the shadows a bit he’s got a very long way to go toward being productive night in and out.

    1. That’s how this entire season has gone. 1st half games are usually uptempo and the Wolves get on the break more, while also utilizing Rubio as the main ball handler to run our offense. We look at trying to actually run plays and get it inside. While in the 2nd half Thib’s usually runs the offense through Wiggins. We become an iso team who shoots jumpshots of the dribble, and not set and shoot shots.

      It comes down to what Thib’s prefers. As a coach, you either adjust your system around your players and their skills, or you run your system and make the players adjust. It’s obvious he’s making the players adjust. Everybody knows Rubio can’t shoot, and is best utilized by running the game to move and find the open guy. So what’s the point to even having him out there when Thib’s just puts him in the corner to do nothing?

  2. It doesn’t seem possible that a team can look so fluid for the opening half and get a lead and then go so stagnate the second half as our wolves do most nights. Is it Thibs offense that makes them so one dimensional or the players abandoning the offense that does it?

    I can’t stand KAT shooting 3s anymore, because no one is there to rebound and his low post moves are now creating more difficult shots then easy ones for him. He needs to keep in the low block, and get more Duncan like with his moves. Duncan has retired, but look at how Gasol and Aldridge worked last night. One or two moves and they had a good shot or passed to an open three point shooter. Defenses have let KAT shoot the three and not let him drive to the basket for a reason. He isn’t going to shoot 40% from three and he usually shoots early in the shot clock, so teams get the ball back quicker and easier than when he is down low.

    Rubio does look like he has had his favorite toy taken away. It is interesting that his assists are down, but our offense has scorers than he hasnt had in the past. I just can’t believe Thibs wants his team to play that two man game and not making the extra passes to cutters and wide open jump shots we see early on.

    1. Yeah, it doesn’t seem possible. I was convinced that Thibs was just setting up the offense that way and telling Rubio to dump the ball of and stand in the corner. The two explanations I can think of are: Thibs is running the offense that way, or our players are young and forget real offense half way through every game. Neither of these make any sense. Why would Thibs allow Rubio to create somewhat for half the game, and then essentially ban it? Why would he promote moving without the ball and ball movement for a half and then tell guys to stand around if the don’t have the ball the second half? Conversely, why would the guys remember how to run proper offense for a half and then forget the second half every single game? If they know how to run it one half, every game, clearly they can remember and do it the whole game (or their coach can remind them calmly). And Rubio has been a pass happy operator of offense his whole career. He suddenly just forgot or lost all desire to play like that for large stretches of games? Perhaps there are other explanations that aren’t occurring to me. Between these two, neither make sense. But if I had to pick one that is more likely, it would be on Thibs. Mostly likely it’s some weird combo of things, but I have to say the buck stops with Thibs on this one. He just has to do better. I’m trying to keep an open mind so early in his rein, but he’s making it hard.

      Is that “Get ’em!” that Thibs is constantly yelling every offensive possession? What does that mean? It that helpful? It sounds either like really loud white noise or that he’s suggesting whoever has the ball should immediately drive into the tooth of the D. This is a little too ridiculous…

      This stuff is important for a franchise scarred by losing. The fans are getting restless and tickets aren’t exactly flying off the shelves. There’s a lot of negativity building that could poison development and the franchises relationship with its fans (more that it is already).

      I agree–KAT should focus on the post. He’s different than any player before him, but he was compared to KG due to being a big and a Wolf. But I think perhaps Duncan is a better comparison. I like that he can shoot the three and it can be useful, but the value of his knack in the post is much greater. He needs to focus his energy there, and in P&R. His knack for scoring down there is so good already and he has some spectacular, complex moves. He needs a few more simple, go to ones worked out like Gasol to save him work and get his % up. But it is almost there. The biggest thing is to work on passing out (when and how) of the post. And D. He needs to be a tough defender. So far we only see that in flashes. Still he’s coming along with some hiccups, and these are not the core problems. Wiggins is a much bigger problem. And the real issue is stated above.

  3. Sorry to get ahead of your reports, but just watched the Wolves-Raptors and I’m stunned. Not that the wolves lost another early lead, but that they played aggressively for most of the contest and the referees rewarded us with 11 less total free throws than the Raptors made! They got 18 more Free throws than us and (I guess we can start calling him) DeJordan got two less than the entire Wolves team. Now that doesn’t excuse KAT and Ricky playing matador defense to Lowry, but given how many calls KL got (did Dunn even touch him on that three pointer?) You kind of understand why they wouldn’t breath on him and give an And-1 to boot.

    I wonder if Thibs yelling hinders the team when it comes to the refs? His verbal disgust for the guys defense could actually get in the refs minds that they must be fouling. I’m also wondering what is said at halftime that they come out so flat after playing a good first half? I also wonder if this is the beginning of the end for Ricky as a starter for this team. Dunn is getting more playing time (although Ricky did shoot pretty well tonight)

    This Raptors team is not good enough to be a Western Conference playoff team. The loss of Bismack has hurt them.

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