MINNEAPOLIS — Spurs captain Tim Duncan seemed amused Saturday to learn about Raptors coach Dwane Casey’s new motivational tool. Casey had a 1,300-pound boulder placed in the locker room at Air Canada Centre to reinforce a “pound the rock” theme in his first season as Toronto’s coach.
Duncan adopted Gregg Popovich’s hammer-the-rock philosophy as a rookie, and he continues to lean on it through a tough start to his season. His playing time has been limited through the first four games for a variety of reasons: three first-quarter fouls in the season opener and Popovich’s decision to sit him during the second half in Houston on Thursday. Playing time aside, Duncan also has struggled with his shot.
Heading into tonight’s game at Minnesota, Duncan has made only 14 of 41 shots (34.2 percent). A career 50.8 percent shooter, Duncan said there is little to do but keep firing away until his accuracy returns.
“I finally got one to drop late,” he said of his 4-of-13 shooting against the Jazz on Saturday. “I’m getting just about every shot I want. I just can’t seem to put them in the hole.
“Hopefully, down the stretch here in the next couple of games, I can finally get some to go.”
SHORT-TIMERS: Popovich’s plan to limit the playing time of his veteran players — especially the Big Three of 35-year-old Duncan, 34-year-old Manu Ginobili and 29-year-old Tony Parker — is off to a good start.
Richard Jefferson’s average of 29.0 minutes per game is tops among all players. Of the Big Three, Parker’s 28.8 minutes per game is tops. Ginobili averages only 25.8 minutes per game and Duncan just 22.3, less than backup center-forward Tiago Splitter’s 24.8.
Ten Spurs average at least 14.8 minutes per game as Popovich has gone to his bench early and often, mindful of the grind of 66 games in 120 days.
Except for the opener, when Duncan left early with three fouls, Jefferson has been the first starter to come out, replaced each time by rookie Kawhi Leonard. He has been getting significant time with the second unit, even late in games.
“Over the course of 10-plus seasons, I’ve played 42 minutes a night (but I’ve also) played 31 minutes a night,” Jefferson said. “It doesn’t really matter. It’s a matter of getting in that group.
“The second unit is without Manu and Tony and Tim, so I’m able to get a few more looks, a few more shots. I feel comfortable in that group. But in whatever Pop needs, whatever position he puts me in, I’m going to try my best.”
THREE-FICIENCY: With the notable exception of the loss in Houston, the Spurs have been remarkably efficient from long range. Their 10-for-16 shooting beyond the arc in the victory over Utah pushed their season percentage to 37.6. Without their 2-for-17 performance against the Rockets, they are 30 for 68 (44.1 percent).
Ginobili made his first five 3-pointers against the Jazz. Utah’s C.J. Miles got a finger on his sixth attempt, deflecting it enough that it fell short of the rim.
“First two games I felt pretty good, but in Houston I couldn’t make one,” Ginobili said. “(Saturday) it felt great. I’m not the kind of shooter who will go 5 for 5. It was different (Saturday). We moved the ball. I didn’t force the shots. I was open, and I made them.”