On Tuesday night, the Minnesota Timberwolves played host to the NBA-best San Antonio Spurs and were greeted to a depleted Spurs team of their own. Gregg Popovich opted to give Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard the game off to rest while Tony Parker too currently remains sidelined due to injury. San Antonio’s starting lineup consisted of Matt Bonner, Stephen Jackson, Tiago Splitter, Cory Joseph and Danny Green.
After torching the Pups in his previous matchup, Danny Green provided early scoring for the Spurs from beyond the arc and off the dribble-drive. Since being exiled to the D-League less than two years ago, Green has established a very important role on the league-best Spurs.
Speaking of former D-Leaguers, Cory Joseph started at PG. As many of you may know, Cory is brother to Devoe Joseph, the former Gopher basketball player who ultimately transferred to Oregon. For the third point guard on a team, Joseph has a rare ability to create his own shots and brings tremendous size and athleticism to the point guard position. Joseph led all Spurs with 15 points in 26 minutes.
From the get go, this game was the Ricky Rubio show. Ricky absolutely thrived opposite of the young and inexperienced Joseph and left his tracks on the inside and outside. He did a marvelous job of gaining penetration and faced a much easier defensive group than they saw in the two teams previous matchup. Rubio was not only prevalent in his spectacular passing – highlighted by a Sports Center top play nominee – but he looked very comfortable pulling up for jump shots off of screens while even knocking down a few spotted-up deeper looks. Nothing but positive things to say about our captain who could be seen screaming and cheering for his teammates for the rare minutes he was not on the court leading the Pups to victory. He is truly a fantastic role model for all young Minnesota athletes.
The Timberwolves soard ahead 49-37 with less than 2 minutes to play in the second quarter behind 13 points and 7 assits from Ricky. Minnesota led after the first half 53-38 in a game that was shaping up to be a very rare victory over the Spurs. San Antonio’s lone active superstar, Manu Ginobili was ice cold and missed several wide-open looks that we are not accustomed to seeing. The second half got out of hand quickly as the Timberwolves gained a 25-point lead halfway through the third quarter. By the end of the third quarter, the game practically felt like it was over in a matchup between “which team’s roster is more depleted.”
With 9 minutes remaining and the game well out of hand, Ricky Rubio grabbed his tenth rebound marking his first career triple-double and the first triple-double of the season for the battered Timberwolves. While many point to the resting of Duncan-Parker-Leonard as the primary reason for the lopsided score and Rubio’s absolute domination, it must be noted that Minnesota is dealing with countless issues of their own and got a well-earned home victory. With a happy crowd gazing as the two teams spent the final few minutes running in sloppy transition, the Pups finished out this one by a score of 107-83.
Greg Stiemsma had himself a day with 3 goal-tends, and it is hard to think back on the early games of the season when the Stiemer was actually effective as a primary shot-blocker. I have been very disappointed with his sub-par play over the past few months and he will need to reassert himself at some time if he is to find a permanent home with the ballclub.
Minnesota’s bench was ridiculous in this game, as each player possessed at least a +21 on the floor combining for 48 points among Alexey Shved, JJ Barea, Chris Johnson and Dante Cunningham.
Tiago Splitter, who has developed into a very nice player under Popovich, went a dreadful 1-10 from the field and scored only 4 points in 22 minutes. When considering the favorable matchups against a depleted Minnesota frontcourt, Splitter really had an off night.
Keys of the Game:
- Three-point shooting - I know you cannot point at only one aspect and say that it was the reason for victory, but the way the Wolves shot the ball last night was completely uncharacteristic and was a sight for sore eyes. The Pups shot 12-20 (60%) from downtown and fed off of each others makes, creating a very pleasant atmosphere in the Target Center.
- Ball movement - Minnesota notched 30 assists as a team to only 19 by the Spurs. The Wolves had a very easy time with their lateral ball movement in the half-court offense, and worked at a very steady pace throughout the game.
Three Stars of the Game:
- Ricky Rubio - Congratulations to Ricky as he finally recorded his first career triple-double in arguably his greatest performance of the season. It was very refreshing to see Ricky having so much fun on the court and while cheering from the bench, and it makes me realize how truly lucky we are that Kahn’s big gamble paid off. In 35 minutes, the Spaniard put up the line of 21 points (9-17 FG), 13 rebounds, 12 assists and 4 turnovers with a +23 on the floor.
- Alexey Shved -Welcome back Shved! Alexey broke out of his terrible slump – for at least one game – as he finished with 16 points (6-8 FG) and 7 assists in 30 minutes. The Russian nailed 3 of his 4 attempts from long range and was even the beneficiary of a generous rim on his last make. A big theme throughout this season has been how when Alexey plays well, the Timberwolves have been very hard to beat. However, the rookie has had troubles becoming acclimated to the elongated NBA season in comparison with FIBA.
- Chris Johnson - Johnson clearly outshone the starter Stiemsma and was everything that we need for him to be in the role he currently is in. In 22 minutes, Johnson scored 6 points while converting on all 3 of his field goal attempts to go along with 6 rebounds and 6 blocks.