2012-13 Season, Game Analysis

Timberwolves 114, Mavericks 106: Ricky Rubio returns

Its not that the Wolves were listless or lackadaisical in the first quarter of this game. They were playing hard, conscientiously attempting to execute their offense and make solid rotations on defense. No, the word to use might be “uninspired”: the offense was stagnant and uncreative; they were bricking jumpers; they were allowing the Mavericks open looks in the midrange and in transition. It was pretty mediocre.

But that all changed when Ricky Rubio and his aura of great, oceanic positive vibes entered the game. He threaded a one-handed bounce-pass to a cutting J.J. Barea. He dropped a stomach-churning hesitation move on Elton Brand and then calmly dealt the ball behind his back to Derrick Williams in the corner (who missed the wide-open corner three, but thats cool). He denied passing lanes, frantically dug at ballhandlers and fought around screens. In traffic, surrounded by Mavericks, he bounced a pass through his own legs, past an astonished Elton Brand to a diving Greg Stiemsma. The building was stunned, ecstatic, then stunned again.

Suddenly, Wolves like Andrei Kirilenko and Alexey Shved were making aggressive, penetrating passes. Suddenly, bodies were flying to loose balls. Big men were attacking shooters. Guards were hitting cold-blooded jumpers and launching themselves at the rim. Suddenly, Derrick Williams was playing with patience and poise, hitting jumpers in rhythm and finishing at the basket. The crowd was vibrant and alive. Even the officials lost themselves in the game’s newfound wild magic.

Because I was living in the desert last year, my only experience of the Rubio spell before tonight was televised. And even that mediated memory had begun to fade, thanks mostly to the relentless bummer that was the Wolves’ season following Rubio’s knee injury. But now, after witnessing the phenomenon in person, I can testify to a fact: the magic is real. When Ricky handled the ball, I swear to you, the molecules in the Target Center air vibrated at a more resonant frequency. The team began to move with the kind of loose, beaming freedom that comes only when the fear of failure melts away, when joy becomes its own pursuit.

By the time Rubio pulled up for the potential game-winning three at the end of regulation, he had already exceeded our wildest expectations for his comeback, had already reminded us of the nearly transcendent feeling of watching him play. He had seemed to transfigure the Wolves’ culture simply by stepping onto the floor. And so its probably for the best that he missed that shot, if only to remind us that he really is an actual human player with very real flaws, that physical rules still apply, that our imagination does not bend reality just because Ricky Rubio wants it to.

So he missed that shot and exhausted his allotment of minutes in the process. But the transfiguration held. Andrei Kirilenko hit a streaking Shved off the OT’s opening tip. Pekovic corralled a long outlet pass and, in the same motion, dished it to a trailing Kirilenko for a leaning layup. Shved hit a rolling Pek for a layup and a foul. Good feelings abounded.

*     *     *

Here’s a bit of a paradox. Rubio is gifted in his ability to make the game fast and chaotic–and then to thrive in that chaos. He disrupts opposing offenses; he pushes pace in the open floor; he breaks down the defense with his dribble and his shockingly creative passing. But he also, sometimes simultaneously, slows and simplifies the game, makes it seem vivid and intelligible. His passes often serve as guides, gentle reminders to his teammates, and to us, of the ideal shape of a play, of the optimal movement of bodies on the floor.

Two cases in point. In the second quarter, Rubio steals the ball and leads a three-on-two break with J.J. Barea and Derrick Williams on the wings. Rather than push the ball down the throat of the transition defense, as most point guards might do, he slows, and even retreats slightly, when he reaches the top of the key. As the defense retreats into the paint, Rubio inclines his head toward Barea–all but instructing his running mate to fade to an open spot behind the three point line–and hits him with a sharp chest pass. Barea drains the wide open three.

Fourth quarter now, one minute to go, Wolves down 102-100. Rubio and Nikola Pekovic initiate a high screen-and-roll. This is a staple play of the Wolves’ offense, but it comes into striking focus with Rubio at the helm. Shved and Barea tend to draw this play out, dribbling laterally and allowing Pekovic the chance to seal his rotating defender under the basket. But, as he did all last year, Rubio winnows the pick-and-roll to its essence. He threads a pass to Pekovic in mid-roll, before the rotating Shawn Marion has a chance to reach the big man. What was complex and elongated becomes simple and clear.

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0 thoughts on “Timberwolves 114, Mavericks 106: Ricky Rubio returns

  1. Que bueno! Que bueno! Viva Ricardo y los lobos!! Olee- olee ole oleeee!! We dig him in Spain too. Wolves to the playoffs baby!

  2. Nice article and articulate expression of the joy of seeing Rubio’s return. I got to be in attendance for his first T-wolves game, and have since moved to the desert, so I guess I’ve had the reverse experience — but I can verify: it’s equally electrifying to have him back. The magic definitely IS real, regardless of medium.

    Klosterman had a recent Grantland piece, spawned by the Popovich-sitting-starters thing, about Competition versus Entertainment in sports. I don’t know if he got it right — but the nice thing is, with Rubio, one doesn’t have to pick between the two. He makes his team more competitive AND entertaining. You get the steak AND the sizzle. He can satisfy a b-ball nerd, and also make said nerd’s girlfriend love watching the Timberwolves; he can remind me that I understand pro ball more than I did as a young fan, and also rekindle the joy of being a young fan. Which is just a long way of saying: I was clapping and yelling at my laptop screen while watching a League Pass replay, and that hasn’t really happened yet this season (okay, occasionally it has with Andrei’s plays, but still, not with such frequency).

    It’s hard to avoid hyperbole with Rubio. “Joy becomes its own pursuit.” Well said.

  3. Wolves will be howling all season long. The great general has arrived. Ricky looks better than ever. I see alot more fluidity in his jump shot even the ones he missed. I am ready to concede Love as the leader of this team. I see more passion in Ricky’s game. That passion transcends to the rest of the team. I mean did you see how they ran almost every time? Did you see Dwill shouting after dunking? Did you see everyone playing better when Ricky was there? It was a sight to behold to be honest. Now Love needs to erase all the bad vibes from last week and help Ricky lead this team to the playoffs. This is a strong team. But we need to stay healthy. Go WOLVES!

  4. It’s a still from the Foot Locker commercial where he’s a backyard wrestler.

    Watching Rubio makes me think of the confluence of art and science that basketball can be. Some teams and players are wholly scientific with no art behind it (Pek, Love, Cunningham, Ridnour); some are primarily focused on the aesthetic (Barea, Williams). Rubio is the shining example of science-based art. It all seems so natural and has such flair, but it’s based on a honing of skills and instincts as well as a reliance on intelligence. Very few players play simultaneously fast and methodical like he does. He’s the embodiment of one of John Wooden’s famous sayings, “Be quick but don’t hurry.”

  5. Hey, nice work here. You know what I’d like to see is a similar compilation about Shved. Shved was +12 in the game (Shved, Barea, and D-Will, and Stiemsma all had a good +- game) with six assists and two steals, and in a couple of those assists, he was involved in some good ball movement prior to the assist.

    These two are going to be very, very good together. I just don’t see how we’re giving Kahn such a hard time – I mean, Shved, Kirilenko, Rubio, Love, Barea, and Pek? Come on folks! We’re looking at a pretty good future here. We’re all excited… some of the picks didn’t work out, but Love v.s. Rubio max contract? Either way!

    Is that a stat, by the way? The pass before the assist? Number of passes leading up to an assist?

  6. I’m not completely against Kahn because it’s not his fault he was hired, but Love and Pek were drafted by McHale. Rubio was acquired partially because the Wolves had Mike Miller to give to the Wizards, and Miller was also McHale’s acquisition. I like this team, but its success is a function of the deep ’08 draft, trading Mayo for Love and Miller, Love’s psychological makeup pushing him to an All-Star level, and being lucky enough to have Adelman looking for a job during a summer where he was busy preparing for 2 of his kids’ weddings (he wouldn’t commit to anything until after most teams had filled their positions) and the lockout allowing the Wolves to be patient enough to pursue him late in the summer. Otherwise, it would’ve been Don Nelson or Sam Mitchell.

  7. @Roger – It’s not a stat yet, but it definitely does not go unnoticed by us die-hard fans. When rubio is on the floor, everything seemed so easy. I didn’t cringe every time we brought the ball down, and when he came on the floor I was able to think “okay, here we go. time for a comeback”. It was truly a great feeling. Even watching DWill became more exciting (even though his defense is still sub-par).

    As far as Love, he is a great player. We do need him in order to succeed I believe. I posted a comment about possibly trading Love for Faried and a 1st round pick. I thought this was a great idea, then i thought “where are we going to get our scoring from? Pek? Shved? AK?” Well none of them have completely proven themselves. It’s not easy to love Love at this point due to his comments, but maybe he’ll shape up and shut up.

    The last thing about Love. Us Wolves fans have seen NOTHING happen in the last 6 years. We have NO time for players who complain. We are not Hollywood, so if you don’t WANT to play for us, we don’t WANT you playing for us. We love our Wolves!!

    Go WOLVES!!

  8. Thanks, Justin. I don’t watch commercials. Guess I might be missing some good stuff, but on the other hand, my kids don’t know what a Fruit Gusher is.

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