By Kent Youngblood, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –
MINNEAPOLIS — There were 105 seconds left in Friday’s game when Kevin Love went to the basket off a pick-and-roll, took a sweet bounce pass from Ricky Rubio and scored to give the Wolves a four-point lead. As he was hustling back on defense, Rubio waved to the Target Center crowd, exhorting them to yell, louder.
“It was great,” Rubio recalled.
(PHOTO: The Minnesota Timberwolves’ Ricky Rubio drives to the basket around the San Antonio Spurs defender Danny Green during game action at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Friday, January 27, 2012. The Timberwolves defeated the Spurs, 87-79.)
Rubio has already developed a knack for the understatement. On the court, though, it’s a different matter. There he comes through loud and clear. Rubio scored nine fourth-quarter points, hitting three of five shots in the process, as the Wolves scored the game’s final 10 points in an 87-79 victory over San Antonio.
In what is becoming a trademark, the Wolves entered the fourth quarter tied, then proceeded to shut down the Spurs on defense while winning for the second time in a row and for the sixth time in nine games. The Spurs entered the game as the third-highest-scoring team in the league (99.5 points per game) and exited with their lowest total of the season. San Antonio made one field goal over the final 7 minutes.
“We’re playing to win the game (this season),” said Kevin Love, one of three Wolves players with double-doubles. He had 18 points and 16 rebounds. Rubio tied his season high with 18 points and had 10 assists. Nikola Pekovic, getting a surprise start with Darko Milicic sick, scored 14 points, had 10 rebounds and harassed Tim Duncan into a 2-for-12, nine-point performance.
Put that all together and you have a team with a much different attitude than in the recent past. “This year we’re playing to win the game,” Love continued. “We’re really confident that no matter what happens, we can be down three, four, five points, we can be down double digits — it doesn’t matter. We just continue to get better.”
True enough. The Wolves (9-10) enter Sunday’s game with the Lakers in position to reach .500.
Entering this season, the Wolves had lost 16 in a row to San Antonio. Now Minnesota has beaten the Spurs twice in succession for the first time in eight years. The last time they did it in one season was 2000.
“We’ve got to do it before the Mayan calendar runs out,” Love cracked.
But seriously, folks, this was a team effort. Derrick Williams came off the bench to attack the basket, scoring 12 points. Michael Beasley returned after missing 11 games because of a sprained foot and Martell Webster played for the first time this season.
But it was an old story, rather than new faces, that made the difference. Minnesota trailed 79-77 when Gary Neal hit a three-pointer with 3:33 left.
Rubio was fouled and hit both free throws. After a Spurs miss, Rubio hit from 20 feet. Coming out of a timeout, Pekovic blocked Duncan, then Rubio fed Love for a layup with 1:45 left.
Cue the crowd.
“You can tell he worked out all summer,” Adelman said of Rubio’s shot. “And he’s got more confidence than anything.”
The whole team does. Remember when turnovers and defense were the Wolves’ two biggest problems? The Wolves held San Antonio to 15 fourth-quarter points on 5-for-18 shooting. Turnovers? After turning the ball over three times while falling behind 10-2 to start the game (“I didn’t know if we’d ever get a shot off at the beginning,” Adelman said), the Wolves committed just two turnovers in the second half.
“We continue to get better down the stretch of games, the second halves of games,” Love said. “God forbid we come out and start the game well.”
Yeah, just think.