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San Antonio Spurs: What led to the loss vs. Timberwolves?

By Rob Wolkenbrod
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - NOVEMBER 15: Karl-Anthony Towns #32 of the Minnesota Timberwolves defends against LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs during the game on November 15, 2017 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. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - NOVEMBER 15: Karl-Anthony Towns #32 of the Minnesota Timberwolves defends against LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs during the game on November 15, 2017 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. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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MINNEAPOLIS, MN – NOVEMBER 15: Karl-Anthony Towns #32 of the Minnesota Timberwolves defends against LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs during the game on November 15, 2017 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. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN – NOVEMBER 15: Karl-Anthony Towns #32 of the Minnesota Timberwolves defends against LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs during the game on November 15, 2017 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. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

The San Antonio Spurs fell to the Minnesota Timberwolves, 98-86. What went wrong in this game?

On Tuesday night, the San Antonio Spurs fell to the Minnesota Timberwolves, 98-86. It dropped them to 9-6, finishing up a two-game road trip at 1-1. This was behind a double-double performance from Karl-Anthony Towns and a lackluster offensive game from the Spurs.

In a loss like this, the blame can be pointed at a handful of things. From a player who didn’t perform up to par or a specific team statistic, it tells the story of what happened.

With that said, let’s look at what went wrong in the loss to the Timberwolves.

3. LaMarcus Aldridge‘s foul trouble

LaMarcus Aldridge was in foul trouble early and often, leading him to play just 28 minutes against the Timberwolves. He picked up two quick ones in the first quarter, forcing him to leave the same before the midway point of the period. San Antonio stayed up by six points, so the impact wasn’t felt yet.

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Then came the second quarter, which turned into a disaster for the Spurs. Part of it was due to Aldridge, picking up his third foul just six minutes into the quarter and leaving the game for the remaining six. It took the team’s best offensive weapon out of the mix. Minutes later, the game went from 36-34, Wolves, to 57-43.

The Spurs climbed back to within seven in the third quarter, until Aldridge picked up his fourth foul around seven minutes in. Minnesota’s lead rose back to double-digits, being sparked by Nemanja Bjelica crashing the rim at both ends of the floor.

When the 32-year-old big man reentered the game in the fourth quarter, the game was still within reach but the opportunity to get him into a rhythm disappeared. He didn’t connect for a field goal but hit five free throws. It wasn’t enough, with the Timberwolves answering almost every shot the Spurs hit.

Without Kawhi Leonard, if Aldridge struggles to stay on the court and score, then it removes another layer to the team’s offensive punch. There hasn’t been enough consistency from the rest of the rotation to develop a No. 2 scorer, which would take the load off the five-time All-Star. When Leonard returns, the offense should return everyone to their regular roles.

Next: Lack of 3-point shooting

MINNEAPOLIS, MN – NOVEMBER 15: The ball is seen during the game between the Minnesota Timberwolves and the San Antonio Spurs on November 15, 2017 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. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN – NOVEMBER 15: The ball is seen during the game between the Minnesota Timberwolves and the San Antonio Spurs on November 15, 2017 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. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

2. Lack of 3-point shooting

The San Antonio Spurs delivered one of their worst 3-point shooting performances since the first two weeks of the season. At just 29.2 percent, it tied for the fifth-lowest mark.

However, if the Spurs shot 23.1 percent against the Dallas Mavericks and won, what makes this different?

In Tuesday’s win, the Mavs didn’t present a fight from behind the arc, shooting 29.4 percent (10-for-34). Two attempts came within the final 10 seconds of the game, which can decrease it to 28.1 percent.

The deciding factor was Aldridge’s play, which carried the Spurs to about one-third of their scoring. He knocked down 12 for his 21 shots, while the rest of the team shot 39.6 percent from the field. Performances like this can make up for deficiencies elsewhere, especially as most of the Silver and Black struggled.

Against the Timberwolves, the usual suspects — Danny Green, Patty Mills and Bryn Forbes — all hit at least two 3-pointers. In fact, they were the only ones to knock down one of these shots, with seven players taking and not making one.

With the high-powered Oklahoma City Thunder on the way, the Spurs will need every bit of offensive outburst possible. It starts from behind the arc, as they must counter the attack of Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony.

Next: Turnover margin

MINNEAPOLIS, MN – NOVEMBER 15: Jimmy Butler #23 of the Minnesota Timberwolves defends against Kyle Anderson #1 of the San Antonio Spurs during the game on November 15, 2017 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. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN – NOVEMBER 15: Jimmy Butler #23 of the Minnesota Timberwolves defends against Kyle Anderson #1 of the San Antonio Spurs during the game on November 15, 2017 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. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

1. Turnover margin

The San Antonio Spurs had been one of the NBA’s best teams at protecting the ball, forcing more than they gave up. The tide turned in Minnesota, however, with a lopsided turnover margin that favored the home team.

16 turnovers were committed, with the starting lineup having nine of them, resulting in 24 points. It tied the Golden State Warriors game for the fourth-highest mark of the 2017-18 season, with the losses to the Orlando Magic and Milwaukee Bucks, and the win over the Toronto Raptors ahead.

Meanwhile, the Timberwolves had just six turnovers — a low number for a team that was in the middle of the pack in losing the ball. This produced just eight points for the Spurs.

Despite the sloppy play, San Antonio still walked out with the eighth-lowest amount of turnovers per game at 14.6. It’s below the league average of 15.6, so ball control isn’t the team’s biggest flaw. However, getting back in transition to thwart these points off turnovers could be an upcoming point of emphasis, with one of the league’s best defenses on points allowed per game (the Thunder) on the way.

Next: Top 25 players in Spurs history

Where did the Spurs go wrong against the Timberwolves? What needs to be corrected before Friday’s game at home?

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