"We need him. He plays a big role for us. He’s a spark for us. He can come in and knock down some shots for us.”
That was San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan (12 points, 9 rebounds, 7 blocks, 5 assists) on his teammate Gary Neal (15 points), who led a fourth quarter charge (10 points) for the Spurs to put the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves away in the fourth quarter with a 106-88 victory on Sunday.
The Spurs lost Manu Ginobili (12 points, 5 assists) in the first half to a strained left hamstring, while Tony Parker led the team with 20 points and six assists for three quarters, but it was the Spurs’ bench throughout the night, that was able to allow the starters to rest in the fourth quarter.
Here’s the rundown of the Spurs’ 17th victory of the season by 10 or more points.
First Half: Spurs 55, Timberwolves 50
Manu injured – Ginobili had been the spark the Spurs needed to get back in the game in the first quarter, but in the final minute of the second, Ginobili strained his left hamstring in a pick-and-roll play that would sideline him for the remainder of the game.
When asked if he knew the extent of Ginobili’s injury, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said the team would find out on Monday.
"We've gotta step up," said Stephen Jackson of the Spurs losing Ginobili, "one person won't fill Manu's shoes."
The Pekovic – Nikola Pekovic (14 points) ended the first half with 12 points, using a variety of ways to score, most from around the rim on 5-of-10 shooting. He also got Tiago Splitter (10 points) into foul trouble as Splitter had gathered three fouls by the half.
Blair scores quickly – DeJuan Blair was the story early in the second quarter as he was able to use the pick-and-roll sets to score nine points in roughly six minutes of playing time.
“I just felt that’s what we needed at the time,” said Coach Popovich of playing Blair early in the game.
Duncan’s house – In just one half, Duncan manned the paint as he blocked six Timberwolves shots. Attributed to Duncan holding the paint down, the Wolves shot just 40% from the field at the half.
“Well,” said Popovich after the game of Duncan’s blocks, “he’s been the base of what we’ve done defensively for 16 years, so I don’t think it’s a huge surprise.”
“I don’t know,” said Duncan on his 7 blocks after the game, “they just kept coming at me.”
Turnovers were quietly present – Though they didn’t turn it over consecutively as they had been in the past three games, the Spurs did turn the ball over nine times by halftime. Duncan was responsible for three of them.
Second Half: Spurs 106, Timberwolves 88
Parker scoring – Though he didn’t play in the fourth quarter, Parker kept the Spurs ahead of the Wolves throughout the third quarter as he used more of his tear-drops to pace the Spurs with eight points in the third.
Neal seals the deal – The Spurs blew the game open in the final quarter by shooting 4-of-7 from 3-point range. Neal delivered the most daggers as he shot 100% from distance (2/2) in the fourth, and was able to score 10 points alone in the final quarter.
“He shot the ball great and that was a great impetus,” said Popovich of Neal’s play, “but we finally found a group that moved the basketball instead of standing.”
Pop ejected – With 7:22 left in the game and the Spurs leading 90-77, coach Popovich received back-to-back technical fouls and was ejected from the game. The Spurs would use the energy from their coach to finish the game outscoring the Wolves 16-11.
“Is that my dad?” Am I Pop Jr?” joked Jackson after the game. "Every player loves a coach who goes to bat for them," continued Jackson. "You can't get love (from your coach) better than Gregg Popovich."
Spurs bench – The Spurs’ bench was the story of the night where even before Ginobili was injured, they were already making a difference. The team outscored the Wolves 55-39 off of the bench.
Popovich discussed his bench play after the game, “We finally found a group that did pretty well and we got a little bit of separation.” The Spurs’ bench also racked up 17 assists, while the starters only had 14 assists. On the night, the team totaled 31 assists.
“When we’re moving the ball,” said Neal after the game, “we’re one of the best teams in the NBA offensively.”
With the win, the Spurs move to 29-11 on the season and 16-2 at the AT&T Center. The team they just lost to on Friday, the Memphis Grizzlies, will be visiting the AT&T Center next on Wednesday.
Both Duncan and Jackson had some comments regarding their upcoming opponent, "It's going to be a physical game," said Duncan. "We've got to start playing these games like they're playoff games," added Jackson on the Grizzlies coming into town on Wednesday.
Green gone cold – Before Sunday, Danny Green was 3-of-12 from 3-point range. After missing all four of his 3-pointer on Sunday against the Wolves, Green finds himself 3-of-16 in his last four games.
Jack a Texans fan? – In the locker room after the game, Jackson was disappointed to find out the Houston Texans had lost their playoff game to the New England Patriots 41-28.
Gary Neal does not get the credit he truly deserves. That dude can ball, I don't care what nobody says. Coming in off the bench and bringing instant offense. Exactly what the Spurs needed and need on this team. Green and Mills struggled all night. Manu left the game after injuring his hamstring. But that's okay the Spurs still have Gary Neal. A deadly shooter who can get hot at anytime. Dude came in and changed the game up, scoring 15 points off the bench. The man did his job and did it well tonight. Props.