MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—Michael Finley nearly signed with Minnesota this summer, ultimately choosing to leave Dallas for defending champion San Antonio.
On Thursday night, Finley left the Timberwolves frowning again.
The veteran swingman scored 21 points, including the last six for the Spurs, to help San Antonio hold off Minnesota 90-88.
“Finley is definitely stepping up and playing great basketball,” teammate Tony Parker said. “He’s just feeling more comfortable with the team.”
Kevin Garnett got the best of Tim Duncan with 24 points and a season-high 21 rebounds, but the Timberwolves dropped their third straight game when Troy Hudson’s off-balance, running 15-foot jumper in traffic at the buzzer fell short.
Garnett, who was wide open at the top of the key, had a glum look on his face when Finley approached him and put his arms on his shoulders in consolation. As fans filed out and players walked to the locker room, Finley told Garnett how much he wanted to play with him.
“Unlike some of the other people in the league I told over the phone, I wanted to tell Kevin face to face,” said Finley, who had 21 points in his last game, too, filling in for the injured Manu Ginobili. “It was a tough decision, because I’ve always been a Kevin Garnett fan. In my opinion, he’s one of the best players to ever play the game.”
Duncan had 13 points and nine rebounds, missing four of his seven free-throw attempts. He was 5-for-20 from the foul line in his previous two games.
Garnett made a pair of free throws to bring the Wolves to 80-76 with 4:44 remaining, the closest they got since the second quarter. Hudson did the same to make it 84-80, but Brent Barry found Finley open on a baseline cut—and the 11-year veteran swished a jumper to put San Antonio back up by six.
After Marko Jaric’s layup, Finley sank a 3-pointer to increase the lead to seven.
“Finley has hit some big shots throughout his career,” Garnett said, “and that is a classic example of the weapons they have.”
Garnett appreciated Finley’s gesture after the game.
“I have a lot of respect for the man,” he said.
Minnesota didn’t quit, cutting the lead to 89-87 on a layup by Wally Szczerbiak—who had 23 points—with 1:09 to play. Parker was called for a charging foul against Hudson, giving the Wolves a chance to tie.
Jaric missed a layup, Anthony Carter missed a long jumper and Garnett missed a turnaround. Jaric grabbed his rebound on that possession and was fouled with 5.8 seconds remaining, but he made only one of two foul shots.
Finley then went 1-for-2 at the line on the other end after drawing a foul, setting up the final possession. The Spurs, who improved to 18-4, are 16-0 when they shoot 45 percent or better from the field.
That’s because they’re so sound with their backs to the basket.
Minnesota coach Dwane Casey, whose team fell to 3-7 in games decided by five points or less, considers San Antonio his defensive measuring stick. But the Wolves might have given the Spurs too much respect in a woeful second quarter in which they settled for too many jump shots—a customary problem for them.
“It takes us getting our butts kicked to turn it on,” Szczerbiak said.
A 21-14 lead melted into a 10-point halftime deficit, after the Spurs outscored the Timberwolves 25-8 in the period. It was the lowest second-quarter total in Minnesota’s 17 seasons.
Garnett’s rest always comes in this period, and the Wolves were outscored 14-2 during the time he sat out—with Robert Horry scoring the first seven points on a free throw and back-to-back 3-pointers.
It’s early in the season, but the Wolves’ confidence has been shaken this week. They lost on consecutive nights at Philadelphia and against Sacramento— which came on the heels of a five-game winning streak. They watched Bonzi Wells swish a long 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Kings a 93-91 victory on Tuesday, and the Sixers pulled out a 90-89 overtime decision the day before.
Hudson, back from a four-game absence due to knee and calf injuries, sparked the Timberwolves late in the third period after substituting for Michael Olowokandi with less than 5 minutes left.
Hudson had two assists and six points in that stretch before the buzzer, bringing Minnesota to 63-58.
Ginobili missed his second straight game, and fourth overall, for San Antonio because of a sprained right foot. … Minnesota’s franchise record for fewest points in any period is seven, set in the third quarter of a 104-76 loss to Golden State on Dec. 11, 1999. … Olowokandi signed a $16.2 million, three-year contract with the Wolves in the summer of 2003, the same night that Rasho Nesterovic left Minnesota to join the Spurs for a $42 million, six-year deal.