SAN FRANCISCO – If only for a night, Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio found both himself and a new friend during Tuesday’s victory at Utah.
Footage of Rubio and an adorable little girl playing catch with the game ball — improvised during an elongated timeout while workers cleaned teammate Alexey Shved’s blood from the floor — made for popular blog chatter Wednesday on the Internet.
“She was having fun,” he said, “and I did, too.”
Tuesday night was a variation on a recent theme for Rubio, who did not play in the fourth quarter of consecutive games last week. This game he thoroughly enjoyed himself through an 11-point, 13-assist, five-rebound, five-steal night in a 112-97 victory over the Jazz.
He discovered what he sought last week when he said about a season so far filled with more struggles for him than success, “I’m working to try to find myself again.”
Rubio did so against Utah by outplaying rookie Trey Burke, the gifted point guard whom the Wolves bypassed in last summer’s draft with the ninth pick because they already had Rubio and four other point guards on their roster.
“I thought [Rubio] played really well,” Wolves coach Rick Adelman said. “He ran the club well. He found people. Five steals. He was solid.”
Tuesday’s game was the 12th time in Rubio’s career he reached at least five in four different statistical categories, and it was the third time he has done it this season. His 13 assists proved infectious: The Wolves had 31 assists on 41 made baskets, and afterward Adelman praised his team for sharing the ball so well.
A week ago, Rubio said he needed to find himself and his “rhythm” in a season when Adelman has called upon backup point guard J.J. Barea’s spunk and scoring in a handful of fourth quarters while Rubio sat and watched.
Rubio can’t quantify what that missing something exactly is.
“You just know it,” he said. “You just know everything you do out there is right and sometimes you make a mistake but that thing turns out to be the right thing to do. Sometimes you gamble too much, but if you put all the effort sometimes that gamble gives you another chance. I don’t know, things like that get your rhythm back. You’re just out there comfortable.”
Whatever that something is, Rubio seemed to find it Tuesday, and Adelman kept him on the floor for most of the fourth quarter to experience it even after the Wolves had built their lead back to 21 points before Rubio came out in the final three minutes.
Asked if he had found his comfort zone against the Jazz, Rubio said, “Yeah, especially not because stats are saying I play better, just because I was feeling better today.”
The Wolves took Wednesday in San Francisco off and the availability of starter Kevin Martin and Shved, a backup guard, for Friday’s game at Golden State wasn’t yet known.
Tuesday’s game stopped for extended timeouts so arena workers could clean blood from the court after each of them was injured. Shved broke his nose late in the first quarter when he was struck by a Jazz player while going up for a shot. Martin lacerated the pinkie finger on his shooting hand reaching for the ball and finding Utah guard Alec Burks’ teeth instead.
“Kevin just told me that will cure him of gambling [for steals] out there,” Adelman said afterward. “I told him to tell Ricky.”
• USA Basketball on Thursday will announce its men’s national team for 2014 through the 2016 Brazil Olympics. Expect Wolves star Kevin Love to be named to that team.
• Martin said he was thankful his pinkie finger isn’t broken and didn’t require stitches (he hates needles). “We’ll worry about the pain the next three or four days and whatever we have to do,” he said after Tuesday’s game when asked about the prospects of playing Friday.