Timberwolves 107, Pacers 89: Happy Birthday, Ricky Rubio!
The poorest effort the Wolves showed all night was at the end of the above video, when the rookies’ version of “Happy Birthday” fell into halfhearted, off-key mumbling. Other than that, it was a pretty good night for Minnesota.
The birthday boy led the way with 16 points on 4-of-8 shooting, 2 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals and was a +22 in 22 minutes on the floor.Rubio began the game 1-for-5 from the field but hit each of his three third quarter jumpers, helping the Wolves extend their lead all the way to 26 at one point. Prior to the game, Ricky worked extensively with new shooting coach Mike Penberthy, who had him going through several midrange jump shooting drills, changing the setup (off the dribble versus catch and shoot), location (elbow or straight on) and timing (pump fake or no pump fake) in an effort to get Ricky to repeat his mechanics in different situations.
Even with his solid night, Rubio is still shooting just 37% (10-of-27) this preseason, including 1-of-3 from deep. His jumper, the eternal thorn in his side, looks better than it has in the past. He’s shooting it confidently, in rhythm, and without as much of the uncomfortable lean and hitch we’ve seen in the past. Will it yield better results? We can only hope. Tonight, as a gift to him on his birthday, the basketball gods allowed Rubio’s jump shots to fall.
Other impressions from the Wolves’ fifth exhibition game, which brought their preseason record to 3-2:
– Minnesota’s leading scorer was Anthony Bennett, who put up 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting in 17 minutes. He capitalized in transition, on cuts to the rim and even on a few jumpers. He had a couple of lapses on defense, especially when trying to get all the way out to cover the Pacers’ Chris Copeland, but all in all it was a very nice night for the former number 1 overall pick. His quickness and agility are light years ahead of where they were at any point during his time in Cleveland. He’s still got plenty to work on, but he has definitely taken steps in the right direction.
– There was a concerted effort to feed Nikola Pekovic during his 20 minutes on the court, and it didn’t always go smoothly. Pek finished 3-of-8 from the field, scoring 6 points, grabbing 7 boards and handing out 2 assists. He still doesn’t quite look 100%, and will probably benefit from a somewhat reduced number of minutes this season.
– If Steve McPherson is Thad Young’s biggest fan, I might be Mo Williams’ biggest fan, and I don’t care what anyone in Portland has to say about it. It was fun to hear him coaching on the floor, especially when teamed up with Shabazz Muhammad and Anthony Bennett. Mo directed traffic, shouting instructions and offering encouragement, salvaging a few possessions when they weren’t going so smoothly by making the right pass and setting up a teammate for a shot. Williams finished with 13 points and 9 assists.
– As a team, the Wolves had 23 assists on 39 made baskets and shot 51% from the field. They only took 8 three pointers but did get to the line 30 times, the third game in a row they’ve cracked 30 free throw attempts. Postgame, Flip talked about having a “system” where guys had to “earn the right to take threes,” so we should all probably get used to the low number of perimeter shots. Getting to the line will help offset what the team will lack in outside shooting; they’re driving to the hoop and drawing whistles at a high rate, which will have to settle for a consolation prize.
– Defensively, the Wolves did all kinds of fun, energetic things with 3/4 court, half court and simple ballhandler traps. They forced 21 turnovers and led the fastbreak points battle 16-to-2. Occasionally, teams will make the Wolves’ pay for their aggressiveness, but if Flip picks his spots correctly, the traps will be useful, chaotic weapons to employ. Minnesota’s depth certainly helps their ability to play such high energy, swarming defense.
– Andrew Wiggins sat out in order to recover from general soreness as a result of a fall the other night against the Thunder. After the game, Jerry Zgoda of the Star-Tribune asked Flip what was hurting, his neck or his back? Flip answered, “His butt. He has a third butt.” I had several follow-up questions in mind, but alas, that was the final quote of the press conference.
– This was a nice showing by the Timberwolves, but it’s painfully clear that the Pacers are bad. Paul George (obviously), David West, Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Watson were all DNPs, but even if West, Stuckey and Watson are healthy for the regular season opener, there just aren’t any shot creators besides George on the roster. Indiana had issues generating good looks, struggled to score in the paint (just 20 on the night) and tallied just 14 assists as a team. Frank Vogel is a good coach and they still employ one of the best defensive anchors in the game (Roy Hibbert), but the Pacers’ offense will be almost unwatchable until Paul George comes back to the team, if at all.
– The entire bench erupted in cheers when Brady Heslip logged his 4th and 5th preseason minutes and recorded his second preseason bucket.
– Flip wore a very sharp corduroy jacket.
– Zach LaVine had two layups and zero dunks and I nearly demanded a refund even though I hadn’t paid for a ticket.
– Minnesota plays tomorrow night in Milwaukee and the game WILL BE TELEVISED on Fox Sports North.
– The Wolves’ opener is a week from tomorrow! Tonight was fun and all, but I can’t wait to see games that count.