Butler / Rubio: Scandalous glaring, and other revelations

Friday night’s home opener wasn’t billed as a head-to-head matchup between Ricky Rubio and Jimmy Butler, but that’s what it became, and that’s what it remained, even after the final buzzer sounded. Apparently, Butler told security in the hallway not to let the former Timberwolves guard into “my locker room,” per Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune.

Read as much or as little into that as you’d like. It could have simply been Butler’s lingering frustration with Rubio, with whom he tangled and tussled and trash talked throughout a close second half. It could  have been as much as annoyance at the ovations Rubio received before and during the game, thus spurring him to assert his dominance by refusing Ricky entry to “his” locker room. It’s inconsequential, really, because we’ll probably never know one way or the other, but it does add a layer of intrigue to what was a pretty heated showdown.

The night began with both players receiving raucous welcomes to the Target Center. Ricky’s during pregame introductions, when the crowd gave him a deafening ovation, and Jimmy’s a few minutes later, when he took the microphone to “welcome” fans to the renovated space and had to smile, bashfully, as it went on and on. “Alright,” he finally chuckled. “Calm down.”

Calm down, they did, because the first half was sluggish and uneventful. The Wolves struggled with flow and chemistry, as Jimmy overpassed a few times into crowded space and unsuspecting teammates; Minnesota finished the first half with 9 assists and 10 turnovers. The Jazz cleaned up the glass early, but couldn’t convert on second chance opportunities, with Ricky executing the halfcourt offense competently, but unremarkably.

***

The second half brought the lions out of both players. Their tête-à-tête began with Rubio flopping his way into drawing an offensive foul on Butler early in the 3rd. With 7:37 to go in the game, Ricky drew another favorable whistle, this time a technical on Tyus Jones, a call that seemed to irk the TImberwolves bench. A minute of gametime later, as Ricky and Jimmy battled for a rebound, Ricky hit the deck again. He immediately chirped to the ref for a call, prompting Butler to tell him to “shut the f—” up as he ran to the other end of the court. A passive-aggressive staredown ensued at midcourt, with both players whistled for technicals on account of the scandalous glaring.

(Editor’s Note: The caption of the video is “epic flop,” but I didn’t see anything epic or a flop, in my humble opinion. All about that SEO, I suppose.)

Two possessions later, Ricky turned the ball over, and the Wolves came down the floor and extended their lead to double digits, 90-80, with 5:30 to go in the game. Things could’ve gotten out of hand for the Jazz; Rodney Hood, who was their only consistent shotmaker on the night, had already gone down with an injury. The crowd was fired up and very much into the ballgame. The Wolves appeared ready to run away with the ballgame.

But that isn’t what happened. Partially through Ricky’s own determination, and partially through the Wolves’ genuine stupidity, the Jazz crawled back into it. Ingles and Rubio hit back to back threes, slicing the lead from 8 to 2. Then, with 1:57 to go and up 5, the Wolves committed a clear path foul as Ricky drove to the basket off a turnover, giving the Jazz two foul shots and the ball. Utah failed to capitalize on the bonus possession, but the Wolves failed to make them pay by bungling the next possession of their own, which resulted in a shot clot violation. Then, Jeff Teague fouled Rubio on a three attempt, Ricky hit all three ensuing free throws, and the game was tied.

But it didn’t stop there – on the next Wolves possession, after a timeout, Jamal Crawford and Karl-Anthony Towns couldn’t execute a basic pick-and-roll, resulting in another Ricky recovery, and two more foul shots. Rubio hit one of two, and the Jazz had the lead 96-95. On Minnesota’s next possession, Jeff Teague threw up an ugly, desperation shot that was blocked, rebounded… and subsequently turned over by Rudy Gobert. Had he held on to it, the Jazz would’ve been shooting free throws to ice the game. But he didn’t, the Wolves called timeout to draw up a play, and then Jamal did his thing:

Down by two, the Jazz call timeout to draw up a play. After scrapping and clawing to keep his dribble, Ricky drove and dished to Gobert, who missed a tough look, but Ricky was there to grab the offensive rebound and kick to Derrick Favors, who missed a great look, and then Rudy Gobert missed the putback attempt, and the ballgame was over.

***

Jimmy Butler rebounded the Jazz’s third miss of that possession and was fouled by Ricky Rubio. It was a fitting end to their back-and-forth.

It was a rather familiar feeling for those of us who, despite the losing, managed to enjoy Ricky so much over the years. After Kevin Love left, the Wolves were Ricky’s team, for better or worse. Now, they’re Jimmy Butler’s team, for better or worse. When the offseason moves happened, I knew things were going to be very different, but I couldn’t quite articulate how. Obviously, Jimmy is a much, much better player. But it was more than that; with Ricky out of the picture, there was an element gone, replaced by something better. And it took me watching them go toe-to-toe to really figure out what it is…

One’s a facilitator, one’s a catalyst. One’s a middle manager, one’s a skilled tradesman. One’s a bureaucrat, and one’s a badass. Watching Ricky in “winning time” is to hope that others come through on his behalf. Rubio did everything right on that final possession – he kept his dribble despite the double team and pressure, maintained his cool, found an open man in the paint, stayed with the play, collected the board, and found another open man for another shot at the tie. Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors let him down.

When Jimmy passes to a teammate, he’s playmaking. That’s his prerogative, not his priority. Jimmy Butler is a more direct incarnation of what you want, as a Timberwolves fan. He utilizes his teammates, whereas Ricky relies on them. There Jimmy was, banging with Derrick Favors on the low block, getting beat once, but then stripping him on the next possession. There he was, wreaking havoc by forcing a steal and taking it coast to coast. There he was, needling Ricky and firing up the crowd. Sure, on this night, Jamal Crawford was the one who hit the big shot, with Jimmy helping to screen him free. There are nights like that for every elite player.

But as Jimmy settles in, and offensive chemistry picks up, the difference will only become more stark. This is Jimmy’s team, and Jimmy’s time, and if the Wolves fail or succeed, it all comes back to him. On this night, they were lucky to escape with the win. After all that work, all that uphill clawing, Ricky left Target Center with the loss. Jimmy iced the game at the line. And there was nobody else that could let him down.

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8 Responsesso far.

  1. jried says:

    Um, probably shouldn’t ‘share this because Rubio would pass it along,’ especially after this of all articles!

    Otherwise, great write up. I’ll always be a Ricky fan, but Butler’s our man now. Love his fire and intensity. And people need to chill out about someone ‘being mean’ to Ricky or whatever. He didn’t punch him, for god’s sake.

  2. Bryan says:

    “This is Jimmy’s team, and Jimmy’s time, and if the Wolves fail or succeed, it all comes back to him. “, That Line is funny.. u guys don’t deserve Karl, would be really interesting to see him not signing an extension next year..

  3. finchy74 says:

    Interesting takeaway if one compares Rubio to Butler. During the game, I couldn’t help comparing Rubio to Teague and having my opinion reaffirmed that the swap we made at PG was a poor one.

  4. gjk says:

    Mentioned this previously, but Butler is mostly replacing Rubio’s skill set and on-court leadership/hustle role, while Teague (and Crawford) is replacing LaVine’s shotmaking and questionable defense.

  5. Tom says:

    I’m sensing that Thibs wants to rid his young players of anyone from the previous regimes and he and Butler think that Rubio was a pacifier to the young Wolves. Thibs brought in hard nosed professionals, not to necessarily add skill to the group, but intensity. Getting KAT and Wiggins to be like Jimmy is the goal my friends. Tough, demanding and single purposed. Hating the opponent and closing ranks with teammates. I think Thibs felt that Ricky was too gentle on the young people. Always trying to cheer them up after a loss and not be hard on yourself if you make a mistake. Thibs wants everyone to be as miserable as he is.

    As for Teague replacing LaVine’s shotmaking. I think he would be better off just bringing the ball up, calling out plays and stand in the corner like Rubio did the first half of last year. Hopefully making an occasional fast break lay up or three pointer. I don’t want him taking shots like LaVine or trying to replace his scoring. That is the Thibs way.

    • gjk says:

      Teague is a scorer who can handle the ball and be a secondary playmaker. Just because they won’t be running plays for him or having him go iso like LaVine did doesn’t mean that’s not a similar role as LaVine’s was. Butler, Wiggins, and Towns take over parts of Rubio’s playmaking, Butler takes over Rubio’s defensive playmaking, and Teague is the guy they hide on defense like they did LaVine. He’s not getting paid $19 million to be Steve Kerr; they’re paying him for a diverse offensive game that may not include LaVine’s dunks or heroball 3s but does include getting teammates more involved than LaVine did and being better at playing off the ball. A great offense takes advantage of all those skills and doesn’t oversimplify his role.

    • biggity says:

      I’m not sure. Ricky is very intense and passionate and a tough player. Butler has more bully to him, frankly, as does Taj (and Love and KG before them). And Wiggins will never be mistaken for unbridled passion and toughness. Just not his vibe.

      I think Thibs felt like Jimmy + another PG = Ricky’s passing and play creation, while adding better shooting and rim scoring from Teague. Maybe Thibs sees defensive potential in Teague as well, or simply believes adding Butler and Gibson is enough, regardless of who is point.

  6. pyrrol says:

    ‘One’s a middle manger, one’s a skilled tradesman’. Insert laughter. Does everything have to be spoken through ‘his team’ platitudes and clichés? The Wolves were actually Kevin Loves’ team while he was here—he was everyone’s focus. When he left, it was only Ricky’s insomuch as no one else showed any leadership or played like a professional consistently. But directly comparing SF Jimmy Butler to PG Rubio is complete apples to oranges. One is an all star, and one will never be, because you have to be an elite scorer to be an all star. These two players couldn’t be more different, and quite frankly they easily could have played on the same team and thrived. On some level, if you were to call one of these guys a middle manager it would be Butler. He doesn’t have a pretty, or artful game. It can be blunt, crude and more about physicality than pure skill. Meanwhile, Rubio can make basketball look like art, can make even a bad system hum on offense on his skill and smarts alone. One’s a scorer and one isn’t, so one is a finisher and one isn’t. This is not a contest between who is better—Butler does more of what the NBA values at a higher level than Rubio and few would deny that. But there is little magic to his game, little unusual about it. Rubio is unique, and does things that get your attention in a sort of off the beaten track way. I think what he does as a point guard is really valuable and impossible to compare with a guy like Butler. But the swap was Rubio for Teague, not Rubio for Butler.

    As for the whole soap opera in this game, it made me lose a little respect for Butler. I mean, intense is one thing. Peeing all over everything desperately on home opener to mark it as your team (even though you are an all star) is another… It’s almost insecure, and certainly not likable. I know Butler as an intense guy, but this was just weird. Rubio got flattened. It might be annoying having someone jump in front of you, but when you level them with your shoulder, it’s not a flop. Then right before the tiff, Butler clearly committed a hard over the back foul which was not called. If there is some valuable symbolism in calling Rubio a flopper when you are knocking him on is a** it is lost on me. And so is the lack of sportsmanship. Not to mention the tone deafness of demonizing all NBA nice guy Rubio on his return game to MN for basically no reason… If Butler got that pissed at Rubio imagine how pissed he’ll get at actually annoying and dirty players throughout the league! Oh, wait, he’s not gotten into it with anyone else yet… Yuck.

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