Spurs power past ailing Timberwolves

Ruben Martinez, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

SAN ANTONIO -- The Minnesota Timberwolves fought admirably, as they have all season despite many injuries, but a road game against the home-tough San Antonio Spurs was too tall an order Sunday.
The Spurs pulled away for a 106-88 win at the AT&T Center.
Tony Parker scored 20 points, and Gary Neal had 10 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter for the Spurs, who have won 12 consecutive home games to offset losing seven of their past nine road games. The Spurs (29-11) beat the Wolves in San Antonio for the 16th straight time.
Minnesota (16-18) stayed close for most of the game, trailing 78-71 heading into the fourth quarter, but the Spurs dominated the final quarter.
Neal hit two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, when the Spurs outscored the Wolves 28-17. Neal hit four of six shots in the period, filling in as the off-the-bench sparkplug in place of Manu Ginobili, who left the game right before halftime with a strained hamstring.
"(Neal) shot the ball great, and that was a great impetus," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said, "but we finally found a group that moved the ball instead of just standing."
Minnesota cut the lead to 78-73 early in the fourth, but Neal's two 3-pointers helped the Spurs build an 88-75 lead. The Wolves cut the lead back to 10, but Stephen Jackson's pull-up 3-pointer capped a 9-0 run, and the Spurs led 99-80.
The Spurs recorded 31 assists on 45 field goals.
"Of course it makes it easier when you have guys that are capable and willing passers," Neal said. "It's always an exciting time on the court when you have a game with 31 assists. That's just a credit to the team."
Before getting hurt, Ginobili, along with Parker, torched the Wolves with driving layups. In the first half, the duo combined for 28 points and nine assists.
Spurs big man Tim Duncan broke out of a mini-slump, scoring 12 points and blocking a season-high seven shots. He added nine rebounds, five assists and three steals.
"They just kept coming at me," Duncan said. "I'm just trying to bring some energy back and get our rhythm back. I've been in a slump lately, and I'm trying to fight my way out of it."
It's only the second time in six years that Duncan has blocked that many shots.
"He's been the base of what we've done defensively for 16 years, so I don't think it's a huge surprise," Popovich said. "It's kind of neat that it was seven (blocks)."
J.J. Barea made his return for Minnesota after missing two games with back spasms. He led the Wolves with 15 points, and he added six assists. Nikola Pekovic had 14 points and four rebounds for the Wolves.
"At the end of the third quarter, we were right there," said Wolves point guard Luke Ridnour (13 points, six assists). "They went on a run in the first five minutes of the fourth, and it seemed like it was just too tough to battle back."
Minnesota forward Kevin Love missed his fifth consecutive game with a broken right hand. Love needs surgery, but his operation is on hold while the Wolves' team doctor recovers from surgery himself.
Injuries are taking their toll on the Wolves, who were also missing Chase Budinger, Malcolm Lee and Brandon Roy. Ricky Rubio has been hampered by knee and back injuries, and he is now 1-for-12 shooting in the four games he's played since returning. He went 0-for-6 from the floor Sunday, finishing with four points and two assists in 22 minutes.
NOTES: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was ejected for arguing with the officials with 7:22 left in the game. ... Wolves coach Rick Adelman missed his fourth straight game to be with his wife, who has been hospitalized with an undisclosed illness. Minnesota fell to 1-3 under acting coach Terry Porter. ... Last season, the Wolves won the season series against the Spurs for the first time since the 1999-00 season.... The Wolves are trying to avoid a dubious distinction. They are shooting 29.8 percent from the 3-point arc this season. In the past 10 years, only one team has finished below 30 percent from long distance.

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