SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio Spurs borrowed from themselves Sunday night in their defense of two-time All-Star Kevin Love and ultimately the Timberwolves, too, during a 104-86 victory that denied the visitors yet one more chance to move over .500 this season.
A month ago, the Spurs discovered veteran big man Boris Diaw — and that’s meant literally — was the best defense against Love in the fourth quarter of a comeback victory after Love had already torched them for most of his 42 points thanks to 8-for-9 shooting on three-pointers that evening.
Diaw started Sunday’s game and started it on Love on a night when the Spurs also threw big bodies Jeff Ayres and Matt Bonner on him.
“Putting bodies on him, literally,” Wolves coach Rick Adelman said, biting his tongue figuratively before he went any further.
The Spurs limited Love to 3-for-14 shooting — and only two three-point attempts — and after he had shot from anywhere and everywhere and made most of them in that game just a month ago.
“He definitely got our attention, if nothing else,” Spurs star Tim Duncan said. “He’s one heck of a player having a great year. We knew we wanted to keep him off three-point line especially.”
By limiting Love, the Spurs limited a Wolves team that failed to get over .500 for the ninth time since the day before Thanksgiving and failed to take advantage of the absence of injured sixth man Manu Ginobili, starting center Tiago Splitter and starting shooting guard Danny Green.
Ginobili and Splitter didn’t play at all and Green played only nine minutes before he sprained an index finger and was lost for the night.
Without Ginobili, the Spurs simply asked more of Bonner, Ayres and others on a night when the Wolves got a relentless 22-point, six-rebound performance from center Nikola Pekovic and little fight from anyone else. Love needed as many shots to get his number of points, and fellow starters Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer combined to shoot 3-for-17.
The Wolves shot 31 percent in the second half, when they were outscored 52-37.
“They were very physical with Kevin Love everywhere he moved,” Adelman said. “We have to figure out a way to help him out a little bit, see if we can’t have an answer for that. They’ve played together a long time. They know exactly what they’re doing out there. They went out, were aggressive and took us out of the game.”
Love didn’t attribute that bad night personally and collectively to the Spurs’ physical nature.
“No, just missed shots,” Love said. “You look at all those shots, I’d take any of those any day. Probably four or five of them rimmed out, and that’s on me. I just have to focus more on finishing. Had a few more of those gone in, we might have been right there in the game, so that’s on me.”
Adelman implied NBA officials won’t protect Love from being played what Adelman considers too physically, so how do the Wolves react when opponents muscle him?
“That’s what we have to find out,” Adelman said. “We have to figure out a way to help him.”
Pekovic has an answer to help his teammate in the kind of physical game Sunday in which Pekovic thrives.
“Try to move the ball from side to side and try to remove a little pressure from him,” Pekovic said. “If it’s on one side always, he’s under constant pressure and his guy can front. We need to try to move the ball better from side to side. We’ll work on that in the future.”