It’s not fair to label one game as “the one that they won for Flip”. The Wolves will be wearing a commemorative patch to honor Flip all season, and every game this season will be played in his honor. This year is for Flip.
But this was the first one, and it was great.
The game looked lost early on for the Wolves, especially after the first stint for their starting lineup. Trailing by as much as 16 in the early minutes of the game, it took Kevin Martin and Shabazz Muhammad late in the 3rd to get the game back into striking distance for the Wolves.
No, scratch that. It got the game back into striking distance for Ricky Rubio.
Rubio had a career night to open 2015. All of Mike Penberthy’s work with Rubio seemed to come together in one game.
Ricky Rubio: 28 pts, 10-17 FG, 2-4 3s, 14 assts, 1 TO, 32 mins
— Jon Krawczynski (@JonKrawczynski) October 29, 2015
Of course, he needs to keep up high level play like this for the praise to continue, but this was the type of start from Rubio that Wolves fans have been hoping for, in a pipe dream sort of way. He took good shots from all over the floor, finished tough plays, and, of course, passed the ball brilliantly. While he certainly helped close out the win, his game was high-level throughout. It was a constant onslaught mix of scoring, passing, and stellar defensive play.
Nobody is expecting, or hoping for him to shoot near 30 points per game this season, but a mid-teens average on efficient shooting would be a huge step for Rubio.
This shot, where he kept his shot on-line despite a bump from D’Angelo Russell, was especially nice. His finishing in traffic has always been a bigger problem than his spot-up shooting, so this was nice to see.
Rubio was the game’s MVP, no doubt, but there were other nice moments tonight. The most exciting was the other team’s double double recipient, Karl-Anthony Towns.
He hit shots from mid-range, showed prowess and touch in the post, rebounded well, and – most importantly – looked extremely comfortable on the floor. He faced Roy Hibbert, who is a player with faults but is still massive and experienced. In theory, he would cause problems for a 19 year old kid playing his first ever NBA game. He did not.
This play, where Towns muscles his man into the position he wants, and shows excellent touch on the hook, was one nice example of the rookie’s excellent 14 point (6-10 shooting) 12 rebound NBA debut.
In fact, Towns often looked to be a step ahead of Hibbert, both in speed and in basketball IQ. Some plays, of course, were set up by Rubio, but Towns showed lots of skill and backed up his team’s No. 1 pick selection.
Kevin Martin shot just 6-15, but also got to the line 12 times and made 11 of his opportunities. He, in a lot of ways, was the original driving force that brought the Wolves back. As mentioned, it was Martin and Shabazz Muhammad (for a short stretch) that got the Lakers’ first half lead within single digits.
The troubling piece from tonight’s was Andrew Wiggins’ 2-10 outing for 9 points in 29 minutes. He didn’t look like his usual self, failing to exploit opportunities against smaller defenders as often as he did towards the end of his rookie season.
But he also looked like he was hurting. He was icing his shoulder when he was on the bench, and there were moments of him grimacing at certain points. Radio play-by-play voice Alan Horton reported on that after the game.
Mitchell said postgame Wiggins was bothered by a sore back tonight.
— Alan Horton (@WolvesRadio) October 29, 2015
Wiggins struggled and is hurting, but also played nearly 30 minutes, and didn’t seem to lose the confidence of Mitchell as the game went on (he finished the game). If the coaching staff, and (more importantly) Arnie Kander approved of him playing, it’s very likely nothing to worry about.
He did play excellent defense on Kobe Bryant in the 4th quarter. His famous failure to stay down on the pump fake last season wasn’t a problem tonight. Kobe is a king of pump fakes, but Wiggins stayed down, and Kobe struggled to get anything going late when the Lakers needed him most.
Overall, this was a fun basketball game for the Timberwolves. The team’s best scorer didn’t score well, but they still rallied, got behind Ricky Rubio, and won the game. This whole season is dedicated to the memory of Flip Saunders, but getting that first one is extra special.
"WE". Good way to start the season. Like you taught us. Never quit and fight till the end.
— Ricky Rubio (@rickyrubio9) October 29, 2015