By Mason Pitluk
On a night when the Spurs got off to a fast start, things turned awfully bad really quick. After jumping out to an early 7-0 lead, San Antonio quickly found themselves down 25-35 entering the second quarter, a quarter which would see starting shooting guard Manu Ginobili fracture the fifth metacarpal in his left hand. This injury is devastating for both the Spurs and their star lefty who, as Tony Parker pointed out post-game, “was playing at an All Star level.” There will be plenty of time to discuss Ginobili’s injury in depth (as I plan to do soon in my next article), so let’s focus on last night’s contest alone, and what, beyond the loss of Ginobili, is worth noting.
A very brief look at the Spurs’ five games this season will reveal a pretty black and white blueprint for Silver & Black success; stay in San Antonio. In three home games this year the Spurs have blowout victories over their two toughest opponents thus far, the Grizzlies and Clippers, as well as the Utah Jazz, while their two road games have both ended in blowout losses to the Rockets and now the Timberwolves. Needless to say, if the Spurs can’t find a way to start picking up victories away from home they could be in danger of being out of playoff contention by the time Manu returns.
DeJuan Blair’s Defense
Throughout his time in San Antonio the biggest hole in DeJuan Blair’s game has been his defense. So far this season Blair has looked improved on both ends, especially offense, but last night he got torched. Kevin Love absolutely abused Blair on pick and pop three pointers, particularly in the first quarter, time and again receiving ample space to shoot from Blair, even after knocking down three after three. Blair’s help defense was also noticeably off last night. Much like taking a bad pursuit angle in football, Blair kept trying to meet driving guards around the free throw line, rather than lower in the paint, and more often than not was blown by as Ridnour, Rubio, or some other Minnesota guard finished easily at the rim. Obviously, listed very generously at 6’7’’, no one expects him to be a shot blocking force, but Blair has to position himself better to at least be able to contest shots as they go up. Overall, DeJuan had a really rough game, going 2 of 9 from the field for just 6 points to go along with only 3 rebounds in 28 minutes. For the Spurs to be successful Blair must continue to improve defensively, return to rebounding the ball at the high rate he had in his first two seasons, and continue along the offensive pace he set in this season’s first few games.
The Timberwolves Shooting
aka “Dr. K. Love (Or: How We Learn That Some Nights Teams Are Just On Fire and Win the Game)”
Minnesota ended the night shooting an amazing 58% from the field and 57% from three, but those numbers are misleading; the T-Wolves actually shot the ball way better. With about half the third quarter gone, the Timberwolves were still above 70% shooting from the field. Entering the fourth quarter Minnesota had hit 11 of 14 three pointers, a whopping 79%. No, these aren’t typos. Wesley Johnson, for example, had been averaging just over 5 points per game on 31% shooting. Last night he went 6 of 6 for 14 points. Overall as a team, the Spurs weren’t playing defense that terribly*. The younger Wolves, who were noticeably more energetic despite beating Dallas the night before, simply shared the ball to perfection. Playing the exact sort of balanced, pass-first, efficient and effective offensive that new coach Rick Adelman is known for, the home squad bombarded the visiting Spurs with bucket after bucket. When a team is playing that lights out, chances are they’re going to win, and unlike last year when Minnesota twice surrendered big leads to San Antonio, the Timberwolves never really let the Spurs back in it as they coasted to a 106-96 win.
*Actually, on second thought, they were. Surrendering 35 first quarter and 66 first half points to a team on the second night of a back to back is pretty terrible.