MINNEAPOLIS, Dec. 15 (Ticker) -- For the third straight game, Kevin Garnett and the Minnesota Timberwolves came up excruciatingly short.

Garnett and Troy Hudson missed potential tying shots and Marko Jaric missed a crucial free throw in the final 10 seconds as the Timberwolves suffered a 90-88 setback to the surging San Antonio Spurs.

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The Timberwolves have lost their last three games by a combined five points, failing to execute at the end of all three contests. They went scoreless for the final two-plus minutes of Monday's 90-89 overtime loss at Philadelphia and allowed Bonzi Wells to make a 3-pointer at the buzzer of Tuesday's 93-91 home loss to Sacramento.

"It's been the little things that have been getting us," Minnesota coach Dwane Casey said. "But our guys have competed, given the effort. No one in this league could think that they haven't competed."

"I don't even know where to start," Garnett said. "We're right there, we're right there. We're in all these games, we're playing hard, but we're not playing smart at times."

On Thursday, Minnesota was undone by a franchise record-low second quarter, scoring only eight points. It trailed by as many as 15 points late in the third period before staging a rally but never caught San Antonio.

"They had a nice little run in the second quarter," Garnett said. "Again, it was probably just too big of a hole, but we continue to fight like we're always going to do."

"I think we let up a bit (in the third period)," Spurs forward Tim Duncan said. "They went to that small lineup, were able to get some fouls and some 'and-ones,' but we were able to sustain."

A layup by Wally Szczerbiak cut the deficit to 89-87 with 1:09 to play. Garnett had a chance to tie it, but his fadeaway baseline jumper over Tim Duncan was no good.

Jaric grabbed the rebound and was fouled with 5.8 seconds left. He missed the first free throw before making the second. Afterward, he uncharacteristically left without talking to reporters.

The Wolves fouled Michael Finley, who cooperated by splitting two free throws with 5.2 seconds to go. With Minnesota out of timeouts, Hudson dribbled quickly up the right sideline and pulled up at the baseline but missed as the horn sounded.

Garnett had 24 points, 21 rebounds, six assists and four blocks as he won his duel with Duncan, who collected 13 points, nine boards and six assists while struggling from the foul line.

"Kevin is one of the best ever," San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. "We all know that. That's what guys like him do. He was great, especially in the second half. So was Wally. The two of them got them back in the game."

However, the Spurs got the victory. They have won two in a row, eight of nine and 13 of 15 to improve to 18-4, the best record in the Western Conference.

"Great road win," Popovich said. "Every win is beautiful. There's no such thing as 'not pretty enough.' We'll talk about the ugly (Friday) when we watch the film. Tonight we were fortunate we were ahead by two when time ran out."

Finley scored a season-high 21 points for the second straight game as he picked up the slack for injured All-Star guard Manu Ginobili. San Antonio had five players in double figures and drained 8-of-13 3-pointers while committing just nine turnovers.

"Finley played great for us," said Popovich. "With Manu out, he has really stepped up and given us the depth that we need."

"This is the second game in a row that (3-point defense) has hurt us," Casey said. "Our discipline broke down; we didn't stay home or rotate well."

Szczerbiak scored 23 points for the Wolves, who held a 44-37 advantage on the glass but made just 1-of-6 from the arc.

"It's like déjà vu," Szczerbiak said. "The 3-point shooting is what killed us last year when we had teams coming in here and shooting the lights out from long range."

In the second quarter, Minnesota made just 3-of-17 shots while committing five of its 10 turnovers, turning a 21-14 lead into a 39-29 halftime deficit. The eight points broke the club mark for a second period last set February 5, 2000 at Denver.

"We were too passive," said Hudson, who scored all 11 of Minnesota's bench points. "We gave them too much credit and didn't take it to the basket. We settled for jump shots."

"They played great defense," Casey said. "Gregg Popovich is one of the best coaches in the league. I have the utmost respect for him. He has built one of the best defensive teams around. But that said, we have to do better than we did."

A 3-pointer by Bruce Bowen, who had 12 points and seven rebounds, pushed the margin to 55-40 with 4:49 left in the third period before the Wolves closed the quarter with a 14-4 surge.