By Ruben Martinez
This time they attempted to get above .500 in San Antonio, but the Spurs held tough and beat the Timberwolves 104-86 Sunday night at the AT&T Center.
San Antonio, on the other hand, has been hot. The Spurs have won their last four games and eight of their last nine. They are one of the most efficient offensive teams in the NBA, while Minnesota is last in the league in field goal defense.
It should not be too surprising that San Antonio shot 57 percent from the field, including 9-of-13 from deep, and kept Timberwolves star forward Kevin Love in check. The Spurs also added 31 assists (on 42 made field goals), their third-highest total of the season.
“It’s an unselfish team, and when we play like that a lot of that comes from being in fast break mode because we’re making stops and getting it up the floor, moving it,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “It’s easier to get assists than when you’re walking it and playing in the halfcourt every time.”
The Timberwolves (18-19) are winless the last nine times they entered a contest with a .500 record. The last time Minnesota was above .500 was Nov. 23, when it beat the Houston Rockets. The Timberwolves have been mostly alternating wins and losses since.
The Spurs (29-8) were without guard Manu Ginobili, who is still day-to-day with a sore hamstring, and center Tiago Splitter (shoulder sprain). In addition, guard Danny Green left the game in the second quarter with a left hand injury and didn’t return. X-rays on his left index finger were negative, but he will have an MRI on Monday to determine the extent of the injury. He will not accompany the team to their Monday game in New Orleans.
The Timberwolves struggled in the first half, shooting 18-of-45. Center Nikola Pekovic was the lone standout, hitting 7-of-11 shots for 14 points. Pekovic has been hot of late, averaging 23 points, on 54 percent shooting, and 10.6 rebounds in 11 games coming into Sunday’s contest. Pekovic finished with 22 points against the Spurs.
As cold as the Timberwolves were in the first half, they were even colder in the second half. They only shot 31.3 and 1-of-8 on three-pointers.
Love, who scored 42 points in the first meeting with the Spurs, struggled, hitting only 3-of-14 shots. He finished with 14 points, his second lowest output of the season. He scored his first points on free throws with 3:23 left in the first quarter.
“They were physical with Kevin Love everywhere he moved,” Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman said after the game. “We have to figure out a way to help him out a little bit. See if we can’t have an answer for that. (The Spurs) put bodies on him, literally.”
Forward Kawhi Leonard led a balanced Spurs attack with 17 points and six rebounds. Forward Matt Bonner added 14 off the bench, hitting 4-of-5 three-pointers.
“Our second unit did a good job of holding down the fort,” Bonner said, “especially in the second half. The starters built the lead, so it’s a total team effort. I think we hustled for 48 minutes and that’s what got us the win.”
Forward Tim Duncan added 15 points, eight rebounds and four blocks for the Spurs.
San Antonio built a 28-21 lead in the first quarter. Minnesota wrestled the lead back with 5:19 left in the second quarter on a layup by guard Ricky Rubio, but the Spurs regained the advantage and held a 52-49 lead at the half.
The Spurs led by double digits the entire fourth quarter.
NOTES: In the teams’ first meeting this season, Timberwolves F Kevin Love scored 42 points, sank a franchise-record-tying eight 3-pointers and grabbed 14 rebounds in Minnesota’s 117-110 loss at San Antonio on Dec. 13. ... Spurs G Tony Parker posted his season-high point total (29) in the same game. ... The Timberwolves began the night 0-10 in games decided by four points or fewer this season. ... Spurs coach Gregg Popovich drew some laughs before the game. He was asked about injured C Tiago Splitter’s rehabilitation and what he was up to. “About 7 feet,” Popovich deadpanned. Splitter is expected to miss the next two to four weeks with a sprained right shoulder. ... Timberwolves F Chase Budinger missed the first 34 games of the season, but he averaged seven points in his first two games back.
San Antonio 104, Minnesota 86
Minnesota 21 28 22 15 — 86:
San Antonio 28 24 29 23 — 104:
Love 3-14 8-11 14, Rubio 3-8 0-0 7, Pekovic 10-15 2-2 22, Kv.Martin 2-12 2-2 6, C.Brewer 1-5 0-0 2, Shved 4-7 0-0 11, Budinger 2-8 0-0 5, Barea 3-9 3-3 9, Turiaf 0-1 0-0 0, Cunningham 3-8 0-0 6, Mbah a Moute 0-3 0-0 0, A.Price 2-3 0-0 4, Dieng 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 33-93 15-18 86.
SAN ANTONIO (104)
K.Leonard 8-11 0-0 17, Parker 5-11 4-4 14, Duncan 5-9 5-6 15, Diaw 3-4 0-0 7, Da.Green 0-1 0-0 0, Mills 4-6 0-0 10, Belinelli 5-8 2-4 13, Bonner 5-10 0-0 14, Joseph 0-4 0-0 0, Ayres 4-7 0-0 8, Baynes 1-1 0-0 2, De Colo 2-2 0-0 4. Totals 42-74 11-14 104.
3-Point Goals: Minnesota 5-17 (Shved 3-4, Budinger 1-2, Rubio 1-2, C.Brewer 0-1, Mbah a Moute 0-1, Barea 0-2, Love 0-2, Kv.Martin 0-3), San Antonio 9-13 (Bonner 4-5, Mills 2-3, Diaw 1-1, K.Leonard 1-1, Belinelli 1-3). Fouled out: None. Rebounds: Minnesota 44 (Love 7), San Antonio 54 (Duncan 8). Assists: Minnesota 17 (Rubio 8), San Antonio 31 (Parker 10). Total Fouls: Minnesota 13 (Pekovic 3), San Antonio 19 (Ayres 4). A—18,098.