Wolves 99, Thunder 96: La Pistola


In a season so full of short-term disappointment, the Timberwolves have always been able to show us a glimmer of hope in the success of their young players. Whether’s it’s Andrew Wiggins scoring the ball, a Zach LaVine hot streak, Ricky Rubio’s floor general capabilities, or Karl-Anthony Towns’ general overall dominance, the Wolves have had bright spots in an otherwise rough season.

But Ricky Rubio’s shooting, while often overshadowing of his strengths, has been historically bad this season. He’s shooting 37 percent from the field and 31 percent from deep, all too similar to past seasons dating back to his rookie year with the Wolves.

Of course, Wolves fans know that his bad shooting shouldn’t overshadow the fact that Rubio has been, often times, the most important player for the Wolves, and the most integral to the team’s success. With the exception of Karl-Anthony Towns and (occasionally) Andrew Wiggins, no player on the Wolves is more important to the team’s success than Ricky Rubio. He may be the NBA’s best passer, is a top-notch perimeter defender, and is a strong rebounder for his position. He’s second in the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio. And while the Wolves’ weak bench has much to do with it, Rubio is fifth among point guards in real plus-minus (and seventeenth overall), and first in defensive RPM.

The impact Rubio provides should be obvious, but sometimes is forgotten, mostly because of the historically bad shooting he has put over his still young career. That’s part of what made last night’s game winner so sweet, especially for Wolves fans that feel the need to sit in Rubio’s corner.

Winning against the Thunder, especially for a team like the Wolves, is big no matter how it happens. Early, it felt like the Wolves were going to fall into a trap that has plagued them before: building a big lead and then blowing it late in the game. Part of this collapse had to do with Karl-Anthony Towns’ first half struggles, and Andrew Wiggins’ inability to get hot and shoot with much efficiency (note: he still played well, especially defensively).

In the second half, KAT came to life, hit a ton of big shots, and helped get the Wolves back into a competitive mode. Gorgui Dieng was the one player not named Ricky Rubio to have sustained success all night, hitting all 11 of his free throw attempts and scoring a very efficient 25 points.

But tonight’s game was Rubio’s, if not for hitting the game winner, then for leading the Wolves with his 12 assists, his 8 rebounds, all while attempting to stop human motorcycle Russell Westbrook defensively. Oh, and he shot 3-6 from deep.

Those who have watched Rubio since his rookie year have seen most of this before. He, along with the other Wolves youngsters helps make this season watchable. But he’s the guy that makes the Timberwolves go, and his sustained production helped the Wolves beat one of the Western Conference’s best last night. His shooting is bad, yes. But what he does otherwise more than makes up for it.

Still, it’s great to see those shots go in.



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6 Responsesso far.

  1. pyrrol says:

    I’m basking in this one like a turtle.

    Still wanna trade Rubio, Milt?

    I’m proud of the guys. They played hard and even guys who weren’t playing well or were making mistakes still tried hard to add something or come around. As stated above, games like this are a glimpse of the talent we have brewing and what it could bring.

    I will say that Sam’s coaching looked a bit better this game (we had a nifty inbounding play and timely timeouts though the hockey thing isn’t working). At the same time, a game like this highlights how ridiculous his throwing the players under the bus is, how silly his claims that our problem with defense is simply effort. Every team has effort ebbs and flows, but our guys have generally play hard. This game is exhibit A. I personally think it is also a glimpse into what we could see much more often with better coaching and leadership. One thing I do see amid the angst of having to play under this leadership is the players picking themselves up, and sticking together, which is admirable and a good sign.

    As fun as this game was, the truth is in the near future it will be an outlier (even against less good teams). We overcame so much. We had to play near perfect defense (we had a few lapses but made up for them with unusually great defensive plays, many from Rubio) in order to compete because our bench is a mess. Part of that is because it is still a work in progress, part is because Garnett, Pek and until now Bejelica have been injured, and part of it is because we let Miller and Martin walk. We replaced all these loses only with a D league, lunch pail big. So, we just don’t have the bodies to make a good bench and this is going to make it hard to compete in most games.

    In this game we also got killed on the boards, and OKC is clearly going through some issues that led to an off game. For once we got an opponent when they weren’t hot. I’ve talked at length how on so many levels coaching handicaps these guys night in and out (in this case they overcame it). We did take a normal amount of threes in this game for once. Lots of things aligned for this win. We won’t be able to get this kind of cooperation from the universe too often, so we are going to have to fill out our bench, keep learning, get stronger, and get better coaching in the future to do this regularly. But we’ve shown we can, that it is time to invest.

    I hope this game showed people what Rubio’s true value is (on a contract that increasingly will look like a bargain). I hope this includes casual fans and people in the Wolves’ front office. Whether we have Milt and Mitchell as our guys or not next season, I hope this game illustrates Rubio’s value to this rebuild in vivid enough color.

    • bpechek says:

      I think it also shows where Mitchell stands on Rubio. That was a mapped out play at the end. And with the game on the line, Mitchell wanted the ball in Rubio’s hands. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but with all the noise about trading Rubio, it’s hard to not look at that play as being done to make a statement.

      • pyrrol says:

        Hopefully. I remain skeptical of this.

      • finchy74 says:

        bp, at first I thought the original plan was for Wiggins to dish to a trailing KAT but your comment got me looking at the play again. After watching it several times, I think you’re right. Sam was counting on Westbrook to foolishly drift towards the action instead of sticking with his man (Rubio) and it appears as though Wiggins was looking for Rubio from the start. Hell of a pass by Wiggins and good strategy on the part of Mitchell.

        • gjk says:

          That was clearly set up for Wiggins to put up a shot if one was available or pass to Towns if he was open. Putting LaVine and Bazz in the corners also meant they were intended to be options before Rubio, who was set up in a spot where he shoots 26.2%. He was option 5, the Thunder forced Wiggins to pass, he chose Rubio (though I think Bazz was just as open), and it worked out. I like Rubio as much as the next guy, but the Thunder wanted to leave him open and probably would defend the play the same way in other situations.

          • pyrrol says:

            Have to agree with you gjk. I think the play was drawn up with Rubio down the priority list. They ran a similar play near the end of the Suns game tonight and it is clearly a Wiggins vehicle with options.

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