Rubio's Return Both A Personal And Team Success

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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There wasn’t much Ricky Rubio would likely change about his debut last night against the Mavericks. On the stats sheet, his numbers in just 18 minutes of play looked comparable to others in 36 minutes of action. Target Center was the loudest it’s been all year, and fans gave him a resounding standing ovation when he entered the game. And when it was over, the Wolves picked up a 114-106 overtime win.

And if there’s one thing Rubio would alter, that’s it. With his coaches and trainers watching his minutes diligently, capping him at 18, Rubio used up his final seconds of eligible play in the waning seconds of regulation. After missing a game-winning 3-point attempt with 3 seconds left, Rubio went to the bench visibly frustrated knowing he wouldn’t be able to help his team in the extra session.

“That kills me inside,” Rubio said. “But I mean we did a great job, we got the win and that’s amazing.”

That’s what Ricky Rubio brings to the Timberwolves’ organization, and it’s why his teammates, coaches and his fans around Minnesota and abroad were anxious to see him make his return. There’s something about this player that is intangibly unique.

His teammates feed off his energy. When he was injured last season there was a drop off in defensive intensity and, even though it was unquantifiable, it seemed like the group lost belief they could compete. The result was a 5-20 slide to end the regular season.

This year, with a revamped lineup, the Wolves already had a group of competitive, hard-working guys that had the team above .500 and in the Western Conference playoff picture. Then in comes Rubio, and the game changed again.

When he enters the game, he gives his team, and the fans, a boost.

“Oh yeah, just because his talent and who he is,” coach Rick Adelman said. “Our guys watched him work and get ready for this game. They know what type of player he is. He just rubs off and we found that out last year when we lost him.”

He wasted little time showing that flash and flair in his debut.

Rubio finished with eight points, nine assists and three steals in those 18 minutes of play. He wasted little time trying to hit Derrick Williams with one of their patented alley-oops just minutes after he checked in, and later in the game he did make good on an alley-oop to Andrei Kirilenko.

He hit the floor twice in the second half, showing his knee can withstand some of those unforeseen moments that can happen during an NBA game. He dropped a bounce pass between his legs and around Elton Brand to Greg Stiemsma. He even unleashed a perfect no-look, behind-the-back bounce pass to a referee during a stoppage of play in the fourth.

He performed so well that Adelman told him he can save some things for future games—he doesn’t need to accomplish it all in one night.

“He brings us energy, man,” Williams said. “No words can really describe it. You just got to feel it out on the court. I think that it gets our crowd into it, too. I mean, they’re chanting Ricky and things like that. It’s just a good feeling.”

His teammates have seen him rehabilitating for months, and they’ve been on the same practice court with him for the past two weeks. Guys like veteran Andrei Kirilenko, who has played with elite point guards in his career—John Stockton and Deron Williams—can see the type of impact Rubio makes.

“I think Ricky’s really a pure point guard who loves to play with the ball and create opportunities for his teammates,” Kirilenko said. “It’s always a privilege to play with those kind of guys, especially if you can play without the ball. You know you’re going to get open and you’re going to get the ball. You know I love it. I love to move.”

Rubio said the first game back was special, but the key now is to move on. The next game won’t be the first game anymore, and he needs to continue improving, getting more comfortable and moving on from here.

Still, with all the anticipation surrounding his return, Saturday couldn’t have gone better for Rubio and his Timberwolves squad. He showed the energy and intangibles from last year, and in the end the Wolves found a way to pick up the win.

And that’s a big key in this equation. At the end of the night, after nearly nine months of recovery, Rubio’s biggest focus was on the team’s victory.

The intangibles of Ricky Rubio continue.

“They gave me a great gift, that win in overtime,” Rubio said. “I think that we’re going to do big things with this team.”

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