Spurs 106, Timberwolves 86

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SAN ANTONIO (AP)—Tim Duncan long ago proved his worth as a starter in the San Antonio Spurs lineup. On Thursday, he showed he could come off the bench, as well.

Duncan, nursing a sore left knee, scored 22 points and had 10 rebounds in his first game as a reserve to lead the Spurs to a 106-86 victory over Minnesota.

Duncan, who missed nine of the Spurs’ previous 10 games, had started all 506 games of his NBA career before Thursday. He played 27 minutes, shooting only 6-for-15 from the floor, but making 10 of 15 free throws.

“It was a choice I made to limit the minutes,” he said about not starting. “I couldn’t play a week ago against the Clippers. I obviously wasn’t ready. So it was about getting into live action and seeing how (the knee reacts).”

Duncan left the game after 15 minutes on March 10 in San Antonio’s 108-90 win over the Los Angeles Clippers. He missed six games before that, and three games afterward.

Tony Parker, who finished with 16 points for San Antonio, said it doesn’t matter when Duncan gets into the game.

“Everybody knows he’s the man, even if he’s coming off the bench,” Parker said.

Duncan said his knee, hurt in a late February game in Dallas, felt good after the game, but he was “kind of anxious to see what it’ll do in the morning.” The Spurs’ next game is Saturday against Boston.

The victory trimmed the Timberwolves’ lead in the Midwest Division to 1 1/2 games over the Spurs, who had lost two straight.

“This was a big game for both of us,” said Sam Cassell, who scored 21 points for Minnesota. “Now we just have to realize in a game like this one that we have to fight for every little thing: every rebound, every loose ball, every inbounds pass.”

Manu Ginobili added 15 for San Antonio. Hedo Turkoglu made three of his four 3-pointers for 13 points, and Rasho Nesterovic had 12.

Kevin Garnett led Minnesota with 28 points and 12 rebounds, while Wally Szczerbiak had 14 points, 12 of them in the fourth quarter. Latrell Sprewell was held to five points, about 12 under his average.

The Timberwolves had 14 turnovers and went without a steal all night.

“That’s ridiculous—that’s a sign that we were not alert enough defensively,” said Minnesota coach Flip Saunders. “During the course of a game you should just fall into at least one by accident.”

Szczerbiak made four straight shots to open the fourth period, cutting the Spurs’ advantage to 74-67 with 10 minutes left.

Ginobili then made a fadeaway and a layup to key a 13-5 run. The Spurs led by as many as 21 in the final minutes.

Wearing a brace on his left knee, Duncan entered the game to a standing ovation midway through the first quarter and San Antonio leading 10-6. He missed both of his two shots in the quarter and was back on the bench with ice on his knee to start the second.

The Spurs led 27-22 when Cassell began his 12-point scoring burst in the second period. He hit a short runner, converted a three-point play and then a 16-foot fadeaway jumper to tie the score at 29 with 5:52 remaining in the period.

Duncan’s first basket came on the next possession. He missed a layup, but wrestled the rebound away from Garnett and Mark Madsen and followed with a jump hook.

A 14-foot bank shot by Duncan and a corner jumper by Nesterovic made it 43-38 at the break.

San Antonio, which averaged 16 turnovers in this week’s road losses to Sacramento and Golden State, turned it over seven times Thursday, and only oncein the second half. ^Notes:The Spurs outscored the Timberwolves 48-26 in the paint. … The Timberwolves lead the Midwest, but are only 8-9 against division rivals. San Antonio is 13-8 in the division. … The teams meet for the final time thisseason on Tuesday at the Target Center.

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
K. Garnett K. Garnett
9-15,  28 Pts
12 Rebs, 3 Assists
 San Antonio
T. Parker T. Parker
7-13,  16 Pts
6 Rebs, 7 Assists

Team Stat Leaders