MINNEAPOLIS — Likely needing to play a perfect game even under the best of circumstances against the San Antonio Spurs, the Minnesota Timberwolves seemingly had no hope.
The defending NBA champions toyed with the Timberwolves, especially in the second half, in a 121-92 win on Friday night at Target Center.
Minnesota was without four starters, including leading scorer Kevin Martin. Its 10 active players combined for about 300 more career minutes than Spurs forward Tim Duncan by himself.
Afterward, San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich stated the obvious.
“It wasn’t a fair fight,” Popovich said. “It’s hard to compete when you don’t have all your guys out there. They’re having a tough time with that right now.”
Minnesota did its best to keep it close, trailing by only three after the first quarter.
But the veteran Spurs gained control, opening an 11-point lead at the break before blowing the game open after halftime, outscoring Minnesota 32-14 in the third quarter.
Spurs guard Tony Parker led all scorers with 28 points, despite not playing any of the fourth quarter with San Antonio holding a big lead. He had 13 at the end of one and 10 in the second quarter. His 23 at halftime was already eight more than his season average.
“Tony was really focused tonight, aggressive,” Popovich said. “He got us going tonight.”
Parker finished 12 of 18 from the floor, including 3 of 3 from beyond the arc. It was the third time this season that Parker has finished with 28 points.
“The goal is to try and get a lead,” Parker said. “We know we have a lot of veterans and need to get some rest for the back-to-back (games). Our mindset was to be focused from the get-go and rest some guys in the second half.”
With San Antonio leading by four midway through the second quarter, Spurs guard Danny Green hit back-to-back 3-pointers, pushing to the lead into double figures for the first time. The Spurs led 59-48 at the half.
Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard spearheaded a 13-2 run to start the third quarter, hitting a 15-foot jumper, a long three to make it a 20-point game and two free throws as San Antonio opened a 72-50.
“The frustrating thing was we just didn’t have the size to put in against Duncan and their bigs,” Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders said. “Their perimeters are good. Parker had it going. He loves to play in this arena and shoots the ball well.”
Five Spurs scored in double figures, including forward Austin Daye, who finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds. It was the second double-double of his career.
“He’s going to make shots, he’s going to miss shots. We’re trying to get him to play a complete game,” Popovich said. “He went to the boards hard.”
Green finished with 15 points and Leonard with 14. Forward Tim Duncan had nine points and 10 rebounds.
In addition to Martin, Minnesota was without point guard Ricky Rubio, center Nikola Pekovic and forward Thaddeus Young.
“That’s part of the game, you know, next man up,” Timberwolves guard Mo Williams said.
Forward Anthony Bennett led the Timberwolves with a career-high 20 points. Williams had 15 to go with four assists and forward Andrew Wiggins finished with 14 points.
“(Bennett) played well. I thought he played within himself,” Saunders said. “I would have like to have seen him rebound better. But I thought he did some things offensively, shot the ball well, competed.”
Each team plays the second half of back-to-back games on Saturday. San Antonio has now won three straight overall and heads home for a game against Brooklyn. Minnesota will also play at home against Sacramento.
NOTES: Spurs SG Marco Belinelli returned to the lineup Friday after missing the past eight games with a mild groin strain. Belinelli averaged 8.3 points in three games to begin the season. … Spurs PF Matt Bonner missed the game with an illness. He is day to day. … Timberwolves SG Kevin Martin was diagnosed with a fractured left wrist Friday and is out indefinitely. Martin injured the wrist during the first quarter on Wednesday in a 115-99 win over the New York Knicks. Martin scored a season-high 37 points in the victory and is Minnesota’s leading scorer at 20.4 points per game. … The Timberwolves were without three of their five starters from opening night because of injury or absence. PG Ricky Rubio (ankle), PF Thaddeus Young (personal reasons) and C Nikola Pekovic (wrist) were all unavailable.
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