Gregg Popovich: Spurs 'not where we want to be'

SAN ANTONIO -- San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich pointed out his team "played a great 24 minutes" of basketball Tuesday during its 122-114 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

But for a 32-9 squad clinging to ever-present title aspirations at the halfway point in the season, Popovich and the Spurs need the full 48. That's partly why Popovich said the Spurs aren't yet where they want or need to be in terms of the cohesion and consistency required to capture championships.

"I have no clue. We're not where we want to be. That's all I know," Popovich said. "And no team is where they want to be. Maybe Golden State is. But the rest of us are trying to get there."

The Spurs made that painfully apparent in the first half by giving up 71 points while committing 17 fouls, which sent the Timberwolves to the line for 30 foul shots. The Timberwolves converted 29 of those free throws, including 26-of-26 to start as they took a 71-67 lead into intermission on the strength of a 41-point second quarter.

Coming into the season, the Spurs had allowed only one 70-point first half during Popovich's tenure as head coach (Jan. 4, 2011, at the New York Knicks). So far this season, the Spurs have surrendered two such first-half performances.

"I don't know. We didn't play well in the first half, very unusual," Spurs reserve Manu Ginobili said. "Seventy-one points in the half, 30 free throws, I think it was the first time ever it happened to us. We were not as sharp. We sent them to the line too many times. Then, we were able to correct it in the second half; much better defense, less fouls, more aggressiveness."

Popovich called the Spurs back in December a B-plus to C-minus squad. Now, Popovich's grade probably hasn't improved much, if at all, considering the team's 5-3 record this month. In each of the team's last three losses, it held leads of 10 point or more, including Saturday's 108-105 defeat to the Phoenix Suns in Mexico City.

The Spurs now own a record of 27-3 in games they lead after three quarters.

"Again, as we've done very often, a tale of two halves where we gave up 71, and then we gave up 44," Popovich said. "We gave up 30 free throws in the first half and nine in the second half. That's what it's about -- being physical, playing smart -- and we did it for the second half. So we played a great 24 minutes."

Like the first two quarters of Tuesday's victory over Minnesota, the first half of the season certainly hasn't come without challenges.

After all, San Antonio is playing its first season since 1996-97 without Tim Duncan. The starting lineup includes one new player in Pau Gasol, and let's not forget the Spurs tipped off the season with a total of seven new players, including four rookies.

Still, the Spurs managed to capture a 32-9 mark (which ranks as second-best in the league) at the halfway point. They started off last season 35-6, including 22-0 at home.

So despite starting with seven new players and one new starter, the Spurs are just three games off their 2015-16 pace.

"We've still got a lot of work to do," Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard said. "I think we could rebound the basketball a little better and also get our one-on-one defense better as well."

Leonard put together his fourth consecutive 30-point game against the Timberwolves, tying the longest streak of 30-point outings by a Spurs player in 30 seasons (Duncan accomplished the feat in 2004).

Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge led the Spurs with 34 and 29 points, respectively, marking just the eighth time each of them has scored 25 points or more in the same game since becoming teammates. The Spurs own a record of 8-0 in those games, according to research from ESPN Stats & Information.

"It was just one game tonight. But they were doubling both of us tonight, if they came off of him, then he got a wide open shot," Leonard said. "If they came off me, I got one. We just made shots tonight. I'm just happy that we got the win. Just try to approach every game like its Game 7 of the Finals, and you don't care about numbers, you just want to come out and win."

Patty Mills (11 points) was the only Spurs reserve to score in double figures, but Dewayne Dedmon came off the bench to provide a spark against Minnesota on defense and on the boards (tied Leonard for team high in rebounds with seven).

"It's very big," Leonard said of Dedmon's impact in the second half. "He's guarding Karl Towns out there, great post player, and once you can bring energy to a player like that, it just boosts everybody from on our bench as well as on the floor."

Speaking of the bench, the Spurs improved their depth this offseason while adding athleticism with Dedmon and David Lee to play alongside an athletic Jonathon Simmons on the second unit; a move that should serve San Antonio well during the second half of the season.

So if overall cohesion continues into development, the expectation is consistency will follow.

"I think the first half [against the Timberwolves] was just one of those weird ones," point guard Tony Parker said. "We just have to keep playing, getting better, and for whatever reason at home, we have to fix that first-half thing."

Perhaps something similar could be said about the second half of the season for the Spurs.