By: Drew Mahowald
This is what Wolves fans have been waiting for.
In their 106-101 win over the Memphis Grizzles on Saturday night, the Minnesota Timberwolves were able to give fans the kind of show that they envisioned on a consistent basis before the season began.
What ultimately won the game for the Wolves was the 21-2 run they were able to put together at the end of the 1st half. The fuel to the fire of this run was Minnesota’s fast break points, which is a stat the Wolves haven’t been particularly strong at this season.
During Saturday’s win, we saw what these Timberwolves are supposed to be. We saw Karl-Anthony Towns flying through the air and nearly busting the rim on a tomahawk slam. We saw Zach LaVine leading a fast break and making the extra dish for a fast break score. We saw the Wolves score on a possession without taking one dribble – Wiggins grabbed the rebound, outlet passed to Ricky Rubio who immediately threw a touchdown pass to Shabazz Muhammad for a slam. We saw excellent floor spacing and a number of open three-point attempt off kickout passes from penetration.
We also saw this team close out a win while fighting off a furious comeback attempt from Memphis.
Shabazz Muhammad continues to make a strong case for a starting position, leading all scorers with a season-high 25 points on 8/15 from the field. The slashing wingman once again provided that invaluable scoring punch off the bench for Minnesota, not to mention the energy he injected into Target Center by throwing down dunk after dunk.
Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns were both extremely efficient on the offensive end for the Wolves. They combined for 33 points on 13/16 from the field, which is decent I guess. I mean, it’s rare to see any NBA duo put up number that efficient, let alone a couple of dudes who were pooping in diapers just twenty years ago. Individually, Wiggins notched made 7 of 10 shots and 5 of 5 free throws to finish with 19 points, while Towns added 14 points on 6 of 6 shooting and 9 rebounds while matched up with All-Star big man Marc Gasol.
But, you guys, despite the extraordinary offensive performances from those three guys, tonight’s MVP was Ricky Rubio. Thing is, Rubio made just 2 of his 7 attempts from the field. That usually doesn’t translate to an MVP performance.
However, when you look at every other aspect of Rubio’s game tonight, he was absolutely magical. He was a wizard. Offensively, he ran the pick and roll and pick and pop to the textbook definition, creating a number of great looks for guys like Kevin Garnett, Towns, Nikola Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng. Furthermore, Rubio has mastered the art of drawing fouls, and it showed tonight. He made 11 of 13 free throw attempts tonight, which basically nullifies his poor performance from the field.
Many fans notice Rubio’s offensive impact fairly easily, because his flashy passes and his constant free throw shooting usually catch the eye of the fans. Defensively, though, Rubio’s made have actually had a bigger impact than on the offensive end. He harassed Memphis point guard Mike Conley all game long, creating all kinds of problems for Memphis as they tried to set up their offense. By no coincidence at all, Conley scored just 9 points on 2/9 shooting tonight. Those are not Conley-like numbers. That is, except for when Rubio is defending him.
Rubio’s final stat line included 15 points, 6 rebounds, 12 assists, 3 steals and a +/- rating of +9 in the five-point win. All in just 28 minutes.
Saturday’s win gave Wolves fans what they’ve wanted all season long. High-flying jams, fast break points and efficient performances from Muhammad, Wiggins and Towns fueling a win is just what fans want to see.
But make no mistake about it – the efficient performances and the win probably don’t happen if they don’t get the point guard play they got from the Spanish Unicorn.