MINNEAPOLIS — Coach Gregg Popovich didn't mince words about how San Antonio managed to hang on, come back and beat the Timberwolves on Saturday night in overtime 125-122.
"DeMar won the game for us, we were really stymied by the zone, and he and Patty playing out there with their pick and roll created a lot of opportunities," Pop said. " DeMar was the guy."
Indeed he was, with a season-high 38 points despite not attempting a shot in the first quarter. With the Spurs trailing and needing a run to close the game, DeRozan delivered the last nine points for San Antonio in regulation with an incredibly high degree of difficulty.
DeRozan said the small screen and roll helped him pick the defense apart, and said that he tries to take over and have a closing mindset to pull out the win. Mills, who had 21 points in the game and hit five triples, said that he and DeMar read the zone and worked to get him attacking downhill.
Dejounte Murray, who finished with 22 points, 14 boards and 4 assists, heaped praise on both guys after the contest. He referenced ESPN's preseason player rankings that had DeRozan outside the top 80.
"Definitely not the 82nd best player in the NBA, I'll damn sure tell you that," he said, laughing. "That's DeMar, we believe in him."
Popovich said that Murray is growing as a point guard, and he was appreciative of the compliment.
This was a dicey game for San Antonio, but they hung tough through every punch and improbable three the Timberwolves landed. The worst shooting team in the league got 10-15 combined from Malik Beasley and Naz Reid, and Karl-Anthony Towns made an impactful return for Minnesota with 25 points, 13 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 blocks.
San Antonio's win came down to taking care of the ball, attacking, and hitting enough shots at the right times. They turned it over just six times, got to the free throw line 29 times, and hit over 40% of their 32 attempts from deep.
They won't get much time to rest before another game against these Timberwolves tomorrow.
Seven of San Antonio's first eight shot attempts came from beyond the arc, with Keldon Johnson knocking down the first two with an absurdly high arc and LaMarcus Aldridge knocking one down as well. Minnesota, meanwhile, attacked the to help build a 14-11 lead.
When the Timberwolves extended their range, they hit their first six attempts from deep. Malik Beasley hit three of those.
San Antonio's vets answered, with Patty Mills and Rudy Gay each hitting a triple to cut it to 28-26. The Spurs played good defense on the last possession, but center Naz Reid banked in a three at the buzzer to give Minnesota a 34-28 lead.
Johnson attacked the rim as strong as he has been all year, notching 10 points in the first quarter.
A veteran unit led by DeMar and Patty opened the second on an 13-6 run to take the lead back, with DeRozan attacking the basket and Mills continuing to hit from downtown.
After briefly falling behind, DeRozan drove for another layup and Lonnie Walker IV, got his second steal in the quarter. The defense tightened the screws, holding Minnesota to just 24 in the period. DeRozan finished with 16 by himself in the second, and San Antonio carried a 60-58 lead into the break.
Dejounte Murray opened the second half with an assist to Aldridge, then changed speeds om transition on his way to the rim. After Walker hit a triple, so did Murray. On a transition break, Murray found DeRozan for a poster jam.
Towns scored in the post over and over, keeping Minnesota close. The Spurs went on a 7-2 run, but first pick Anthony Edwards attacked to help the Wolves answer with a 10-0 run of their own to close the quarter, capped by another Naz Reid 3 to take the lead 85-83.
Malik Beasley's fifth three in eight tries made it a 13-0 run, but after some scrappy play from Vassell and two quick triples from Patty, the Spurs surged back into the lead.
It went back and forth to start the period, with Dejounte hitting his second three of the game, but the Spurs losing Beasley for his sixth three right after.
The Timberwolves built a three-point lead hitting timely shots, but DeMar DeRozan scored seven straight for the Spurs, including a fairly ridiculous and-1.
Russell and Towns each hit a three when they ran pick and pop together, with Russell giving them a 113-111 lead with 15 seconds left.
DeRozan took it to the basket strong and got fouled. He hit the first, then the second, and the Spurs needed a stop with 12 seconds left. Minnesota got Russell switched onto Patty Mills, but Mills got him to miss a long two.
Keldon came down with the board, with over a second left, but nobody called timeout until 0.2 left. San Antonio missed the lob, and it went to OT tied at 113.
Dejounte made his third triple of the game from the corner. He tried again from three and missed, but Keldon cleaned up the glass and laid it up. A beautiful possession ended in an extra pass from Dejounte to Patty for three, and later an ugly possession ended in a bail-out shot that went for Mills too.
Towns banged knees with Johnson, then clobbered Murray in the paint with no foul call, then crammed a dunk. Beasley hit his seventh three of the night to cut it to 3. With a chance to tie, Anthony Edwards went to the rim unguarded but realized they needed three points. He whipped a pass to the perimeter that was blocked, and the Spurs dribbled it out for a 125-122 win.
San Antonio Spurs (4-4) vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (2-6)
When, where: Saturday, 7:00 p.m., Minneapolis
All-time series record: Spurs lead 89-32
Last season: Timberwolves won 2-0
Season series: First meeting
Last meeting: Timberwolves won 113-101
Timberwolves' last game: Lost to Trailblazers 135-117, Thursday, Minneapolis
Spurs' last game: Beat Lakers 118-109, Thursday, Los Angeles
Timberwolves' last 10 games/streak: 2-6, lost six
Spurs' last 10 games/streak: 4-4, won two
Timberwolves' injury/inactive report: Karl-Anthony Towns: game-time decision, ACTIVE (left wrist), Josh Okogie: OUT (hamstring)
Spurs' injury/inactive report: Drew Eubanks: OUT (health protocols), Quinndary Weatherspoon: OUT (knee), Derrick White: OUT (toe).
The Spurs had lost to the Lakers twice, but on Thursday night they came in with LaMarcus Aldridge and came out on top for that reason.
The veteran big man supplied 28 points in the first three quarters as the Spurs downed the defending champs 118-109 in a wire-to-wire win. It wasn't just one player or one part of the game that allowed San Antonio to win their second game in a row at Staples, beating the Clippers on Tuesday.
This is a game that the Spurs should win according to Vegas. As six-point favorites, tonight is the first tilt of the season that San Antonio isn't an underdog. They split four games against the Los Angeles teams, went 4-4 in a brutal stretch to start the year, and now have the easiest remaining schedule in the league, according to Tankathon.
Minnesota isn't nearly as bad when Karl-Anthony Towns is healthy, but they've lost six games in a row since he sprained his left wrist. He averaged 19 points, 11.5 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 blocks in the first two games, both of which the Timberwolves won. He was a game-time decision tonight, but felt good to go after warming up.
Even if KAT plays well, and even if D'Angelo Russell has a strong performance, they'll need help to pull off the upset. San Antonio struggled last year handling business against beatable teams, going just 15-15 as favorites.
It seemed in those games that somebody on the opposing squad would randomly have an out-of-character hot night, and for this 2-6 Timberwolves, almost anyone on the roster would qualify. D'Angelo Russell is hitting 41%from deep, but nobody else in the rotation has hit more than 33% on the year. They're at 32% as a team, worst in the league, while San Antonio is third-best at 40.5%.
Ricky Rubio is a prime candidate to be that random guy who goes off from deep, as he always seems to do to San Antonio. He's at 33% career and 28% this season, but he has shot 17-34 from deep against the Spurs in his past nine games. He'll likely match up with fellow vet Patty Mills, who is liquid hot to start the year.
Rookie Devin Vassell should spend some time guarding Anthony Edwards, the first overall pick this year. Edwards has an NBA body, a forceful game, and is coming off a career-high 26 points in a 135-117 loss to Portland.
Before the game, coach Gregg Popovich said that assistant coach Becky Hammon is one of the members of the Spurs' staff quarantining due to the league's coronavirus protocols, but didn't say whether or not either has tested positive. He also said that the initial timetable for Derrick White, who broke the same toe he had offseason surgery on in his first game back, is 4-6 weeks.
Popovich spoke highly of rookies Devin Vassell and Tre Jones, calling Vassell a rare two-way player who has the will to defend and is brave and bright on both ends. He added that Jones "is a wonderful human being, a hard worker, a great teammate, a tough kid, and he works hard and learns easily, so he's been wonderful to have with the group."
Jones was born in Minnesota 21 years ago yesterday. He led Apple Valley to two state titles at the Target Center, where his older brother Tyus spent the first few seasons of his career.
He said that the arena is one of his favorites in the league because it's home, and he'll enjoy it even though he won't have family and friends in the stands.
Keldon Johnson has broken out in his second year. Before the game he spoke about his growth as a player, learning from the veterans, and passing time on the road.