The good news is the Wolves didn’t take a close loss after a blowout. The bad news is that instead, they were blown out against an injured Spurs team that was missing Manu Ginobili, Tiago Splitter, and Danny Green. It wasn’t a great preview for a team they very well may face in the first round… if they ultimately make the playoffs.
The game was fairly back and forth throughout the first half and the result was a 3 point deficit going into halftime, despite some poor shooting by the Wolves. The game began drifting away at the beginning of the 3rd though, when Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard combined for the Spurs first 17 points of the quarter. The Wolves climbed back to within 3 with a few minutes left but the Spurs went on a 10-3 run to increase their lead to 10 heading into the 4th. It never got any closer than that.
One of the many problems in this game was the Wolves inability to defend well against the 3, where the Spurs more than doubled their 3PT% (69.2%) on 9-for-13 shooting overall (5-for-8 in the second half). Turns out, this is actually a reoccurring theme this month — according to NBA.com, in 6 games thus far in January, our opponents are shooting about 41% from downtown. Compare that to December, where we had opponents at 34%. In our 18 wins, we’ve held opponents right at our December average (34%) from 3-point range, but in our 19 losses we’ve let opponents shoot about an average of 40%. Vice versa, in our 19 losses our 3PT% is around 29% and tonight our 3PT% was… 29%. And in our 19 wins we are shooting 41%. It’s simplistic, but worth noting nonetheless.
Secondly, outside of Pekovic — who led the Wolves with 22 points and 6 offensive rebounds — the starters shot a combined 9-for-37. We would have needed the best individual game from just about every bench player to overcome that, and Alexey Shved was the only second unit player that really showed up. The team as a whole seriously struggled to score, missing far too many easy buckets throughout the game.
Lastly, the team again showed an inability to play through calls and were physically outplayed all game. Along with this, when shots don’t fall, the team doesn’t hustle back and their focus seems to suffer. There were at least two times last night that a missed lay-up resulted in a blank stare at the rim, which resulted in fast break points for the Spurs. The Wolves also looked completely discombobulated on the defensive end, so if you combine all of these factors there really was no chance to beat Popovich and his crew.
Ronny Turiaf and Dante Cunningham were two of the only players who showed defensive effort all game (Rubio was pretty good too, holding Tony Parker to 14 points) but overall the team defense was an ugly sight. There was too much ball watching and frankly the effort and passion wasn’t there; it was infuriating to watch. Moving forward this team needs to find a way to develop some sort of consistency. One night they look like the cream of the crop and the next they look like a late lottery team. Hopefully they can start to show some of that consistency we’ve been searching for during this very winnable upcoming stretch — 3 of the next 4 games are against sub .500 teams (it goes Sacramento, Utah twice, and Toronto).
On paper, Toronto is the toughest test, but Sacramento has also gone 6-4 in their last 10 games and shouldn’t be taken for granted. January 21st marks the halfway point of the season and if the Wolves have postseason hopes, a 3-1 and preferably 4-0 stretch will be crucial considering the 3.5 game deficit in the playoff standings, along with a difficult schedule kicking off with road games against Golden State and Portland (a back-to-back on the 24th and 25th). Hopefully this team can pull out the winning streak we know they are capable of; it won’t get much easier than the next few games.