SAN ANTONIO -- With a victory, the Wolves could have won a season series — an important end-of-season tiebreaker, if needed — against a fifth Western Conference opponent battling them for one of essentially six playoff spots remaining.
Instead, the Wolves’ two-game winning streak ended while the Spurs —without injured star Kawhi Leonard since mid-January — won their third consecutive game for the first time since Christmas.
Instead of winning the season series’ tiebreaker with the Spurs and putting two games between themselves and the five-time NBA champions, the two teams now are tied with each other and with Utah as well with 40-30 records.
Crunch their cumulative records against each other and the Jazz actually stand fifth, the Wolves sixth and Spurs seventh despite having the same record.
“Yeah, we let that one go, but we have another one tomorrow,” Wolves veteran forward Taj Gibson said afterward. “We can’t look back on what we did. These games are coming one right after another. We got a tough one tomorrow against Houston and another tough one with the Clippers two days after that.”
The Wolves were outdone by an opponent that starts six-time All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge at center and brings veteran after veteran — Pau Gasol, Tony Parker, Rudy Gay, Manu Ginobili — off the bench.
On Saturday, the Spurs missed nine of their first 11 shots and then made 19 consecutive from late in the first quarter until late in the second quarter.
In that time, they went from trailing 24-15 into a 57-44 lead with three minutes before halftime. The Wolves never pulled closer than six points at 92-86 with 10:20 left in the game.
When it was over, Aldridge outdid Wolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns with a 39-point, 10-rebound performance at the center matchup while Gasol provided plenty of support as well.
“We had problems with their size when Gasol and Aldridge were in their together,” Thibodeau said. “That hurt us.”
Aldridge scored 22 of his 39 points in the second quarter alone when the Spurs reserves turned the game against a Wolves second unit in which Thibodeau is incorporating newly signed Derrick Rose.
Aldridge and Gasol combined for seven of the Spurs’ 14 offensive rebounds, had three blocked shots combined and altered others.
“When they were in there together playing, they were on the boards, they were tipping [balls], they were protecting the rim,” Popovich said. “They were fantastic.”
Gibson praised Parker, Gay as well as Ginobili, who at age 40 still fuels the Spurs with his energy. He had 11 points, three rebounds, three assists and two steals Saturday night.
“Even at 40 years old, he made a lot of tough plays,” Gibson said. “We didn’t match their energy when their second unit came in. When the oldest guy on their team is diving, setting screens, I think at one point he had a dunk, that’s going to set the tone for the team.”
Meanwhile, Thibodeau put Rose into his rotation with Jamal Crawford and Tyus Jones in a second quarter when the Spurs turned the game and in the fourth when Rose’s six successive points helped the Wolves get within six points three different times.
Afterward, Thibodeau was asked if the game started to get away while he worked Rose into the lineup.
“Well, Derrick’s not out there by himself,” Thibodeau said. “Next question.”