SAN ANTONIO – Yes, you’ve seen this before.
Tuesday at the AT&T Center, against one of the best teams in the league, the Timberwolves played hard, played fast, shared the ball, got to the free-throw line and held the San Antonio Spurs at arm’s length.
Ultimately, though, a story that has played out so often during this Wolves season: A 122-114 loss in a game that was decided in a six-minute stretch from the end of the third quarter into the fourth. A 20-2 run that turned a seven-point Wolves lead into an 11-point deficit that, against this team on its home court, wasn’t going to be overcome.
“The first half was great,” said Ricky Rubio, who had a season-high 21 points and 14 assists, his career-high fifth consecutive game with 10 or more. “Second half we lost control of the game. In the second half, we ran out of ideas.’’
It was a Jekyll & Hyde game for the Wolves, who scored 71 first-half points with a season-high 41-point second quarter, thanks in part to a steady march to the free-throw line that had Minnesota hit 29 of 30 attempts.
The Wolves led 71-67 at halftime, with both teams shooting around 56 percent.
Problem was, the Spurs (32-9) kept it going in the second half and the Wolves (14-28) didn’t, especially in a crucial stretch.
It went like this: With 1 minute, 40 seconds left in the third quarter, Karl-Anthony Towns took a pass from Kris Dunn and hit a three-pointer that put the Wolves up 90-83.
But the Spurs scored the final nine points of the quarter, with four coming when Kawhi Leonard hit a three-pointer, was fouled by Andrew Wiggins and converted on the four-point play. Then the Spurs opened the fourth quarter on an 11-2 run that ended with Leonard’s flying dunk with 7:36 left in the game.
In that stretch, the Wolves went 1-for-8 with four turnovers the Spurs turned into six points. Just like that, the Spurs were up 11. And Leonard (34 points) and LaMarcus Aldridge (29) weren’t about to let that get away.
“I wish I could have a lot of possessions back,” Towns said when asked about the turnovers. Towns scored 27 points with 16 rebounds, but he also had five of the Wolves’ 18 turnovers that the Spurs turned into 22 points. “It wasn’t a defensive game in the first half. We were just scoring more than them and not playing better defense than them. For us to win, we would have had to have the same first half in the second half.”
They didn’t. After scoring 71 points and getting to the line 30 times in the first half, the Wolves scored 43 in the second. The Wolves got to the line twice in the third quarter.
“I thought the first half was pretty good,” said coach Tom Thibodeau, who turned 59 Tuesday. During morning shootaround players had talked about getting their coach a victory for his birthday.
“But we had a tough stretch at the end of the third. We didn’t score. We didn’t get stops. We made a lot of mistakes.”
The result was a second consecutive loss after a three-game winning streak. If Sunday’s loss in Dallas was caused, at least in part, because of some uncustomary lethargic play, Tuesday’s loss looked much like a number of losses the Wolves have suffered this season.
“If you’re going to win on the road, you have to take care of the ball,” Thibodeau said. “Offensively, I thought we were good, with the exception of the high turnovers. In the second half, we held onto it too long.”