There is something inexorable about the San Antonio Spurs. The Wolves know this firsthand.
For the fourth time in four games vs. the Spurs this season, the Wolves built a first-half lead by containing the Spurs’ offense. For the fourth time the Spurs calmly, professionally, ground their way to victory. Tuesday night at Target Center, San Antonio scored the final eight points of the game to win 100-93, sending the Wolves to their fourth consecutive loss overall and breaking the team’s four-game home winning streak.
And it all seemed so inevitable. Especially after the Spurs — down 51-42 at the half and trailing by 11 points early in the third quarter — turned 10 Wolves turnovers into 17 points in a 31-16 third quarter that put the Spurs up 73-67 entering the fourth.
Down six with 4 minutes, 22 seconds left, the Wolves scored seven consecutive points and took a 93-92 lead on Karl-Anthony Towns’ three-point play with 2:04 to play. But the Wolves (28-42) never scored again, devolving into a one-on-one game that had Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau clearly frustrated.
“We’re trying to trick people,” Thibodeau said. “And you won’t win trying to trick people.”
Going off-script led to a familiar plot for the Wolves: A second-half collapse that helped the Spurs — bottled up a bit in the first half — shoot 54.3 percent after halftime.
“We have to be disciplined,” Thibodeau said. And then again: “We have to be disciplined.”
Spurs star Kawhi Leonard, held to two points in the first half, scored 20 in the second. LaMarcus Aldridge scored 26. Pau Gasol and Manu Ginobili each had 11 off the bench.
Towns scored 25 with 14 rebounds for Minnesota, and Andrew Wiggins had 22 points, but needed 15 shots to get there. Shabazz Muhammad scored 18 off the bench.
But the Wolves saw their 23 turnovers turned into 35 points by the Spurs (54-16), an impossible total to overcome. Many of the miscues were the result of undisciplined play.
“Everyone wants to make the home run play,” Muhammad said. “That’s a good and bad thing. You want to win the game so bad, you try to take it into your own hands. Sometimes you have to win as a team. We need to learn to do that.”
For all the mistakes, the Wolves still had a chance. After a Spurs turnover, Wiggins was fouled and made both free throws with 2:29 left to cut San Antonio’s lead to two. After Danny Green missed a three-pointer, Towns scored, was fouled and hit the free throw for a 93-92 lead.
But over the final 120 seconds, the Wolves shot 0-for-3 and committed three turnovers as the game slipped away.
“The intent is to try to win, but we’re mistakenly making this up,” Thibodeau said. “We have to be able to count on each other. When the pressure is greatest, you have to be at your best.”
Each of the 10 Wolves who saw action Tuesday had at least one turnover. Point guard Ricky Rubio had four and Omri Casspi had five in his Wolves debut. The Wolves’ assists-to-turnovers ratio in the second half was 9-to-14.
“That’s what killed us, turnovers,” Wiggins said. “The turnovers. Everyone needs to play together, execute the plays that we’re known for.”
Not long ago, the Wolves were flirting with a run for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Four losses later, they are five games out of that spot with 12 to play.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” Wiggins said. “It’s never fun to lose when you’re chasing something.”