By Jerry Zgoda
For the third time in a month, the Wolves took a championship contender to the final play before losing 100-99 at Target Center. The first two times came against the Eastern leading Boston Celtics. On Thursday, Manu Ginobili’s last two of 44 points with 6.2 seconds left beat them. Sebastian Telfair’s potential winning shot from the three-point line rimmed away as time ran out.
The game featured Theo Ratliff’s return for the first time since Nov. 16. He played 14 minutes and scored eight points, including a bouncy slam dunk in the first half.
“Theo’s going to be Theo,” said Al Jefferson, who scored five consecutive points down the stretch to turn a four-point deficit with 1:40 left (after a very questionable flagrant foul on Sebastian Telfair left Wolves coach Randy Wittman livid) into a one-point lead with 39.2 seconds left. “He’s gonna block shots, be a great defensive presence, be a leader. You can’t ask for much more than that from Theo.”
Said Wittman: “I thought he was good. He got tired at the end. But I thought he was pretty lively and he gives us anotehr dimension down there from a defensive standpoint. And if they don’t want to guard him, he can score.”
The Spurs turned the flagrant foul call on Telfair — he ran into Ginobili in an attempt to help out Randy Foye and pushed off high on Ginobili’s body as he went back to cover his man — into Ginobili’s made free throw. Of course, the final margin of defeat was one point.
“It was a foul, no question about that,” Wittman said afterward. “But a flagrant? To give them a free throw and the ball with 1:40 in the game when it’s either tied or close, you don’t make that call.”
Wittman on Ginobili, who has averaged 32.3 points and shot 73.9 percent (17 for 23) from three-point range in three victories over the Wolves this season: “He was good tonight, wasn’t he? In the first half, he was 8-for-9, I believe, and 6-for-7 from three. We were looking over our film at halftime and of the six makes, five of them were as you can have, contested shots. The last time he was here (a Nov. 30 game when the Spurs outscored the Wolves 40-11 in the fourth quarter to erase a 14-point deficit), he was a difference maker. If you put those two halfs together (the second half last time, the first half Thursday), he’s played pretty spectacular.”
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich on Al Jefferson, who had a 28-point, 5-rebound night: “He’s a helluva player, that’s for sure. He’s hard to guard. He can hit that medium-range shot and he drives really well. His balance and footwork and when you add quickness to that, he’s a tough cover, no doubt about it. They’re different players, but the fundamental sense that he has is just like Timmy’s (Tim Duncan).”