By Jeff McDonald
MINNEAPOLIS — When Dr. James Naismith invented the game of basketball more than a century ago, he took pains to hang his peach baskets at both ends of the court.
This “two ends to a basketball game” thing is a phenomenon the Spurs would be wise to remember the next time they venture outside the ATT Center.
With rare exception on the road, when the Spurs’ offense has been on, the defense has been off. When the defense is on, the offense gives Naismith’s inaugural game an aesthetic run for its money.
It didn’t take coach Gregg Popovich long to determine which end was the culprit in the Spurs’ 87-79 loss at Minnesota on Friday.
“If we’re on the road, and we hold somebody to 87 points, I think you’ve got a good chance to win,” Popovich said.
Later in the Target Center locker room, Spurs point guard Tony Parker zeroed in on another number in the box score.
“We only scored 79 points,” he said. “That’s not enough.”
For the Spurs, it was, in fact, a season low.
Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love each scored 18 points for Minnesota, with Rubio adding 10 assists and Love contributing 16 rebounds for his NBA-leading 18th double-double.
The victory gave the Timberwolves (9-10) a two-game winning streak over the Spurs, a team that had beaten them 16 straight before this season began.
“We had to do it before the Mayan calendar runs out,” Love said.
In his first home game since signing a four-year contract extension, Love pushed Minnesota over the top with a pair of drives in the final two minutes. The second put the Wolves ahead 85-79 with 37.3 seconds left.
It was part of a fourth quarter that saw Minnesota score 23 points, usually a manageable total, yet still outpace the Spurs in the frame by eight.
“Like many NBA games, the last four or five minutes, whoever scores wins,” Popovich said. “And we scored 15 in the (fourth) quarter. Fifteen isn’t going to get it done in the fourth quarter of an NBA game.”
The Spurs’ offense having abandoned them, the game took on a familiar, down-to-the-wire tenor. Their previous three road games — an 85-83 win in Orlando, a 105-102 loss in Houston and a 104-102 win in New Orleans — were all fourth-quarter games.
In the final seven minutes Friday, the Spurs (12-8) produced five points and one field goal, a Gary Neal 3-pointer for a 79-77 edge with 3:33 remaining. Those were the final points the Spurs would score.
“We couldn’t make the shots we needed to win the game,” said Parker, who scored 20 points, more than a quarter of his team’s total.
The list of misfiring Spurs began with Tim Duncan, who finished 2 of 12 for nine points. Duncan had a season-high four of the Spurs’ eight blocked shots, but was clearly bothered at the offensive end by Minnesota’s Nikola Pekovic.
A 6-foot-11, 290-pound center who drew the start in place of the ill Darko Milicic, Pekovic finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds. He drove the Spurs batty all night with what they thought were illegal screens to free Rubio.
Popovich argued for the call throughout the game. When officials finally did blow their whistle for a moving screen, the call went against Duncan, negating Parker’s would-be go-ahead jumper with 4:36 to go.
Minutes later, Pekovic again swallowed up Parker on a screen, allowing Rubio to sink a tie-breaking 20-footer with 2:56 left.
Asked about Pekovic’s screen-setting ability, Spurs swingman Danny Green was diplomatic.
“It was unique,” Green said.
Parker, the player most often victimized by Pekovic’s picks, had less to say.
“I have no comment,” he said, chuckling.
The Spurs know Pekovic isn’t the reason they lost Friday. Neither were Minnesota’s point-guard prodigy or newly minted $60 million man.
On a night they actually played passable defense, it was the Spurs’ own inability to put the ball in the basket that doomed them.