Wolves 119, Lakers 104: Ricky Rubio and Opening Up the Floor

On a late March night where two teams with equally gone playoff chances face off, some non-traditional occurrences might take place. A Thibs-led team we can have 37-37 first quarter scores, 67-60 first half scores, Ricky Rubio dropping 20 first half points, and also Thomas Robinson.

This game was a tale of two ends of the floor. Offensively, the Wolves looked stellar. Ricky Rubio had 20 first half points (and kept up the productivity in other ways in the second half), KAT and Wig got theirs, and Gorgui Dieng was as productive a “utility infielder” offensive player as they come.

Defensively, it was not there. As mentioned, the points totals were atrocious in the first half, especially after an early ankle injury to Ivica Zubac. When replacement Tarik Black entered the game, he proceeded to start the game of 6-6, and finish 7-8 from the floor. The team followed, and quickly erased a double digit lead the Wolves built from the gate.

The Wolves ended up clamping down enough defensively in the second half (all while keeping up the offense) to come out with the win, but it never felt like a game where the team was fully in sync on offense.

Except for Ricky Rubio. Oh man, Ricky Rubio.

Defensively, the game was a mess all around. For everybody. But offensively, the team flowed brilliantly. Because of Rubio.

It started off with his 20 point first half, specifically from deep (he finished 4-4 in the first half). From there, Towns and Wiggins were able to get their nice nights off to an easy start. As Tom Thibodeau said after the game, “It opens the floor up. He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now. He’s put a lot of time in, and it’s paying off for him.”

As a result, Ricky Rubio’s career high 33 points was only 1 point better than Towns, who also had 9 rebounds and this dunk (nice pass by Tyus here, too).

Andrew Wiggins had a quiet 27 point game on 20 shots, if that’s possible. And, most quietly perhaps, Kris Dunn had a game that really may be his future. Perhaps some scoring will come eventually, but he did everything else. He got 5 rebounds, made some extra passes, and played the point when the defense started to deny Rubio the ball.

On defense, he didn’t let D’Angelo Russell or Jordan Clarkson get any sort of offense going. And when there was a scuffle, Dunn was there to get involved. If there is any role that fits Dunn going forward, “enforcer” is the one most likely to stick.

But all that: the KAT/Wiggins outbursts, Dieng’s “do everything” stat line, Dunn’s freedom to make mistakes and play limited on-ball offense, came because Ricky Rubio scored 33 points. It came because he then knew how to move the ball around when the defense began to respect his scoring. And it came because he never let up, and was able to keep his consistency throughout the game. Whether this will be a staple or not remains to be seen, but Rubio has definitely found his confidence, and his groove, for now. And he’s going to ride it for as long as it goes.

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7 Responsesso far.

  1. Tom says:

    It was a must win for the wolves after the debacle in LA. Their defense was better than in LA, but not exactly stellar. The basket was as big as the ocean for Ricky, and he was looking for his shot which was different. He also had a good game finding open players to pass to, but against a poor team like the Lakers, he would normally have 16 to eighteen assists. The passes were there, but we still don’t have a lot of options that are consistent scorers.

    The Lakers have offensive talent. They have players that can go 1:1 and beat players that are all-stars. But, they are a little punk-ish and definitely undisciplined. The Wolves are just slightly more disciplined, but they need to be more tough-minded and stomp teams like this.

    Now if we can win the remaining home stand and the series final with LA possibly beat Utah and either OKC or Portland, they will have made reasonable strides and now can prepare for getting a good draft pick, spend their money on quality FA veterans and make a decision on Shabazz. One thing that should be certain is that Ricky won’t be traded for salary cap space. He belongs on a wolves team that makes the playoffs.

  2. gjk says:

    It was interesting being at the game last night to watch the coaching staffs. Walton/staff/players were complaining to the refs after 75% of the calls and during every timeout, often walking over to where the refs stand to talk to them. In the 2nd half, Thibs was talking to the refs, and Walton made a few steps toward half court, while his staff was huddled together weirdly close to center court, which drew the attention of Rick Brunson and Andy Greer. From that point, Greer just glared at Walton as he went after the refs during every timeout. I know there wasn’t a chance at a coach fight, but there was tension. I think the Wolves staff (minus Ryan Saunders and the shooting coach) would be able to handle that staff of lacrosse bros and frat boys.

    The plays on the ball really slowed the Lakers’ offense at times, but it shouldn’t be overlooked how well Brandon Rush guarded Clarkson. In his 19 minutes, Clarkson was 1-4; in the 20 minutes Clarkson was out there without Rush, Clarkson was 5-9. Rush prevented Clarkson from getting to the spots he wanted to go and blew up that play that got Clarkson so many 3s last Friday. Maybe he’s not a lockdown defender, but Rush can do some things against guy like that, who may not be a star but is probably the Lakers’ best scorer.

    As great as it is to see Rubio’s shotmaking, am I the only one who hates watching this offense function? It’s basically “pass the ball to Towns or Wiggins, let them double off Ricky, Ricky shoots” at this point. When the Wolves’ offense has been humming in the past, Rubio didn’t need to shoot at all; it’s great that he’s comfortable now, but how about some actual complex sets with some off-ball movement and making the defense move side-to-side? That would get guys dunks and make it easier to grab offensive rebounds; it would also, you know, sap some of the opponent’s energy that they seem to have an endless supply of for transition and their own offense. Right now, poor Dieng looks so uninvolved when he’s a skilled offensive player. If Towns and Wiggins can’t learn to play fast and move the ball on offense, Rubio’s scoring isn’t going to matter anyway against good teams.

  3. Tom says:

    GJK, your point about the offense is a good one, in that Rubio is still not being used as well as he can be to move this offense into a more uptempo affair like his rookie season. He was cruising along the baseline and it seemed that no one knew how to get to an open spot. Lanes were filled a little better on the slow break, with Rush and Wiggins going to the corner three for a long pass up court instead of the pass to the basket. Also your take on Rush being a bigger guy for Clarkson to shoot over versus Dunn or Rubio is a good one. If Zack hadn’t gotten hurt, we probably would not have known that.

    Most teams have figured Ricky out and have gotten back to disrupt that long outlet for the dunk, but Ghorgi got one in to KAT and I would still like to see Rubio coming up the floor and have Wiggins and Rush (LaVine) move out to the three if the dunk isn’t there and let KAT trail for a drive to the basket or pop at the three. However, for as young and athletic as this team is, they aren’t really greyhounds on the floor. Wiggins especially seems to conserve his energy for long stretches of the game. Thibs may be a “genius” at defense, he has a long ways to go to be an above average offensive mind.

    Ghorghi is a nice player, who has added a nice set shot and some OK low post moves, but I wouldn’t call him a skilled offensive player. I think if the wolves can get the Arizona PF Markkanen, he would be better served coming off the bench. His talent against reserve C/PF would be a big boost to this team.

    • gjk says:

      On this team, Dieng’s offensive skill set probably makes him at worst the team’s 5th-best offensive player, and that’s only if Muhammad and Rubio are ahead of him (both questionable). Of all the guys they have taking mid-range shots, he’s probably the second-best one behind Towns. Also, a good offensive set often ends with the ball in his hands because that means someone found him open or they moved the ball well enough to get him position to grab an offensive rebound.

  4. pyrrol says:

    Congratulations to Ricky! I watched Sportscenter and I get it that this game isn’t important, but when they talked about it it was for about 30 seconds and they did some dumb thing where they pasted the Jack Links (R) Sasquatch head on Towns for a few highlights and didn’t even utter Ricky’s name. I kinda thought career high scoring games from long time NBA starters were stories of some kind, or at least worth a sentence. But this is how the rest of the league views Rubio–as invisible except for an occasional unusual razzle highlight.

    I think there are two parallel points about what a game like this means for our offense. On the one hand, gjk is right–our offense isn’t very good. It only does as well as it does because of the talent of our personnel. But ‘the system’ doesn’t do them a lot of favors. Perhaps the best thing Thibs has done on O is gotten out of Rubio’s way. But there certainly is a lack of motion and complex action, to gjk’s point. Rubio can create a lot with passing, and now is showing he can also chip in with scoring when his number is called. But there is a cap, particularly in crunch time when the opposing team tries to clamp down, without better offense, a better system, better action, more movement.

    The second point is that this game doesn’t mean a whole lot. I don’t mean that in a degrading way. The Wolves need wins to build on in the offseason, so it was important for us. But these are two bad, out of the playoff teams late in the season, not trying too hard on D and experimenting with young lineups as much as trying to be their absolute best. Rubio scoring 33 isn’t so much a blueprint for the future as a symbol that teams are now going to have to worry about him somewhat. And that changes the metrics of our offense in a good way but not an existential way–it doesn’t change the basic game plan of having our young guns score while Rubio is the conductor. This game is nothing like what we’ll look like next year, even with the exact same guys… thankfully. What it does say is that Rubio is improving still as a player and can make you pay. And there’s a lot of vindication here too…

    This point is true of our D, too. Particularly with a Thibs team, our D is not going to look like this next year. However, it is a little unsettling that it’s gone this far off the tracks even in this late, out of the picture juncture. It doesn’t feed confidence in Thibs and makes one wonder if a sustained anything on D is possible with this group of guys (I tend to think it is with almost any group, so I tend to blame coaching more).

    I like what Tim says here about Dunn: He had a game that really might be his future. What was the game for him? He was a defensive do stuff dude guard off the bench, full of disrupting energy and toughness and not a whole heck of a lot of skill. If I sound sarcastic, I’m not trying to. This is a good thing to have on the team—a disruptive bench guard. The thing is this: Is this realistic view yet shared by the staff, or are they still trying to thrust something greater on him at the expense of the team and better players like Rubio? Is tough bench disrupting unskilled combo guard what a team wants with a 5th pick?

    For a stubborn, adverse to change type like Thibs, he sure does F around a lot at his chosen moments. Now he’s back to hardly playing Tyus, even though he lit it up for 4 assists in just 6 minutes (there’s no excuse for playing a healthy Tyus only 6 minutes). This of course allowed Dunn to play backup PG, and it didn’t seem to harm us is a no defense type game (often he just dumped the ball off to point Wiggins). I wouldn’t count on that, though. And I wouldn’t count on Dunn being a primarily on ball guard. So why continue to force minutes in that role? I though Thibs was over that.

    Thibs has also made an error in judgement by playing too many starters too many minutes all season. Jim Pete seemed to be making excuses for Wiggins (who played much better) by showing his minutes this season near the top in the NBA. Wiggins has problems that are playing into his underachievement as much as fatigue, but it’s certainly a contributing factor and also an issue with Town’s D, and somehow it isn’t bothering Rubio that much, perhaps because Thibs’ compulsive need to work Dunn in has given him more rest than other important starters. LaVine was being worked very hard before he went down as well.

    In these dog days of the season it feels like we could be experimenting in more useful ways. Ricky taking (and making ) a lot of shots is the exception. Building his scoring confidence is a huge investment in the future. But allowing the team to play no D, not giving Tyus minutes, going back to trying to make Dunn function as a backup PG, as well as running a low action, zero imagination offense whilst often letting players just stand around doesn’t seem like useful ways to use this team in the waning days.

  5. Tom says:

    Just a little more Rubio talk. If you look at salaries for PG, Rubio is currently 14th (68 highest paid player in the league), but with Steph, George Hill, and Teague getting raises this summer, he will be in the lower half of the league next fall. Only Isaiah Thomas, Kemba and Kyle Lowry have poorer deals, but Thomas will be paid more before Ricky is in renegotiation. By the time his contract is over, he will be in the lower third of all point guards and an even greater steal than he is now.

    Thibs wanted to unload Ricky’s salary to get a player and a back up point guard and let Dunn run the show. We aren’t going to make the playoffs this year, but I wonder how bad it could have gotten here if that trade had happened? They say that some of the best trades are the one’s you don’t make. Certainly in Wolves history, that axiom has to be true.

    I also heard a great Wilt Chamberlain story that I think applies to our young Spaniard. Wilt said that Bill Russell was better for those great Celtics teams than him, because Wilt was a scorer and would take shots and scoring opportunities away from other players. Russ did all the things that made those scorers better and still scored pretty well. I think the non PG in the league are seeing that a scoring PG takes away points from other players that want to score. IF Ricky can make those shots that are wide open to him at this 38-42% rate, he will be the best kind of PG for guys like KAT, Wiggins, LaVine and any other FA we add to play with. He will make our stars better and not take away from their game. Remember when LaVine was healthy, the wolves were only one of two teams with three 20 plus scorers. Golden State was the other and that came with a cost as well, since many people claimed that Durant was supposedly taking scoring opportunities away from Klay.

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