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.