Even if his friend and coaching counterpart still might be confused, Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau isn’t, at least not when it comes to an opponent named the San Antonio Spurs.
The Spurs’ 105-91 victory at Target Center on Tuesday night kept them perfect on the road at 13-0, despite playing without star guards Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
In their recovery from two early 10-point deficits, the Spurs again proved themselves to be everything Thibodeau wants his team to be and something it has been, if only for a couple of quarters at a time so far this season.
The Spurs are a mere 5-4 at home, but they remain the NBA’s only unbeaten team on the road, even though their coach proclaimed he was baffled after his team won by a point Monday in Milwaukee.
After that game, coach Gregg Popovich called himself clueless about why his team scored 16 points more per game on the road than at home and why it’s best in the NBA in offense on the road and only 23rd at home.
“You act like I’m the coach and I’m supposed to know,” he told reporters Monday.
Thibodeau apparently has more clarity after watching the Spurs outscore his team 29-18 in another troublesome third quarter and score 62 points in the second half alone.
“To do what they’re doing, it’s a credit to them and what they’ve done,” Thibodeau said. “They’re 18-4 and not having lost on the road yet, the thing I really respect about the way they play: They play their game, no matter what, and they keep playing their game. They play with a lot of discipline.”
The Spurs are what Thibodeau’s team is not, at least not yet: one that consistently plays from start to finish, with a sense of teamwork that Thibodeau calls “connected.”
After Tuesday’s game, Thibodeau praised the Spurs’ shot selection and their commitment to play together defensively. Thibodeau’s only real praise for his team was rookie point guard Kris Dunn’s play.
“Kris is playing really well,” Thibodeau said about Dunn’s 15-point, two-assist game off the bench on 6-for-7 shooting. “Yeah, really well. It’s a good sign.”
It’s probably not a coincidence shot selection and playing with togetherness are two areas in which Thibodeau’s team displayed wildly varying degrees of success.
“They don’t make things up,” Thibodeau said about the Spurs. “It’s a very disciplined team. They have some guys who have been together a long time and they understand their system well, but they also understand the importance of playing together.”
But the Spurs also have several new players since last season, and Tuesday they took out Parker and Ginobili, plugged in Argentinian rookie Nicolas Laprovittola at point guard, expanded Kyle Anderson’s playing time and just kept on going.
“Everyone knows what they’re doing,” Wolves forward Andrew Wiggins said, referring to the Spurs. “They’re all together: One person moves, the other person moves with him. It’s like they’re all tied together. … It’s a commitment. You just have to commit yourself to do it.”
Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard — the franchise’s heir apparent to a long line of stars that includes David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Ginobili and Parker — scored 31 of his team’s 105 points on an 11-for-15 shooting night from the field that included two three-pointers.
“By this point in his career, he’s a confident player,” Popovich said. “He knows he has a green light. We call his number now and then, but he does a lot of stuff on his own. He just advances his game every year a little bit in some different fashion.”
Nineteen of Leonard’s 31 points came after halftime, and in the fourth quarter the Wolves never trailed by fewer than nine points.