SAN ANTONIO - Steady and relentless any time of the season, just like Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau called them before Saturday’s game, the San Antonio Spurs refused to both yield and lose a game to the Timberwolves, finally overcoming them 97-90 in overtime at AT&T Center.
Now winners 10 consecutive times over the Wolves, the five-time NBA champion Spurs did so by wiping away a 16-point second-quarter deficit to win with a determined second half driven by their defense and rebounding.
They didn’t lead all night until league MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard put them ahead 80-78 with just 2 minutes, 45 seconds left in regulation time. Leonard’s 14 fourth-quarter points on a 34-point, 10-rebound, five-assist, six steal night helped push the game to overtime, during which the Spurs outscored the Wolves 14-7 to win for the 48th time in 61 games this season.
“They’re great,” Wolves point guard Ricky Rubio said after his 11-point, 13-rebound, 10-assist game was his fifth career triple-double and his first in two years. “They keep doing what they’re doing and in the end, they’ve gotcha.”
In the end, the Spurs’ “gotcha” kept the Wolves from getting within two games of Denver in a playoff race for the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot. The Nuggets lost at home to Charlotte, so the Wolves remain three games behind the Nuggets.
The Wolves ended in Texas a four-game, eight-day trip that began right there in Houston a week ago Saturday. They did so with a 2-2 record after they opened and ended it with losses but won two games at Sacramento and Utah in between.
“It was a great opportunity for us to get a great road trip, win three out of four,” Rubio said. “Instead, we’re going home three games behind with only 20 games left.”
Leonard scored another six points in overtime. He also primarily helped end young Wolves star Andrew Wiggins’ franchise-best consecutive streak of 20 points at 19 after Wiggins scored 17 points on 6-for-24 shooting.
"I try not to praise Kawhi too much," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after his team won in overtime for the second consecutive night after it won in New Orleans Friday. "He's getting paid to do that."
Wiggins’ teammate Karl-Anthony Towns kept his streak of 20-point games going at 17 games, but he had reached that by halftime after a 20-point, eight-rebound first half. LaMarcus Aldridge and the Spurs defense clamped down on him in the second half, limiting him to four points the rest of the way.
The Wolves scored 29 points in the second quarter and 28 points in the entire second half.
“That’s not what cost us the game,” Towns said. “The biggest thing was our defense, putbacks, second-chance points. We never should have given it to them. It hurts.”
The Wolves had too few defensive rebounds and far too many careless turnovers, missed free throws with the game on the line and too many 24-second shot clock violations.
“Four, four,” said Thibodeau, whose team had three of them in the fourth quarter alone. “That was the big thing. Time and score, time and score.”
The Spurs muscled their way back into the game slowly. They knocked a 12-point halftime deficit down to eight by third quarter’s end before they won the fourth quarter 21-13 and then dominated the overtime.
“We don’t give in, I guess,” said Popovich, whose team now is 10-1 this season on the second night of back-to-back games. “We are realizing more and more than these games are 48 [minutes] and that you don’t have to panic. You just keep on playing.”