Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio’s hard head and active hands proved to be a winning combination in Wednesday’s 87-82 victory over Washington at Target Center.
Rubio’s work helped end a six-game losing streak.
He once again flirted with his first career triple-double — and teammate Derrick Williams predicted a quadruple-double might not be far off — with a 15-point, 11-assist, seven-rebound, six-steal performance that came up just three rebounds, or four steals, short.
Statistical categories were the only place he and the Wolves came up short on a night when they celebrated for the first time since a victory over Philadelphia on Feb. 20, right out of the All-Star break.
“That one feels a lot better,” Wolves coach Rick Adelman said afterward.
Rubio and the Wolves delivered in the game’s final minute, when he and J.J. Barea converged on Wizards star guard John Wall and tag-teamed on a play that saved the game and left both players arguing in jest afterward.
Barea forced Wall to spin and lose control of the ball. Rubio was credited with a steal and an assist when he controlled the ball and tapped it ahead to Barea for a layup and an 85-82 lead with 28 seconds left from which the Wizards never recovered.
“We were talking and J.J. was complaining that that was his steal,” Rubio said, trying to keep a straight face. “I think he did a great defense, but it was my steal.”
Rubio had four steals in the fourth quarter alone, which started with the Wizards scoring the first 10 points while Rubio rested on the bench.
When he returned, the Wolves trailed by eight points with 9:08 remaining. But Rubio’s return sparked a rally, and they led by four points with 3:14 left before the Wizards pulled within a point with 1:49 left.
The Wizards didn’t score again, thanks to three missed shots down the stretch and that defensive play that left Barea and Rubio playfully debating who gets credit for what.
“Oh, that’s me,” Barea said. “I don’t get steals often, but when I get one, you’ve got to give it to me.”
The official stat sheet showed Barea with 12 points, including two clutch three-pointers that brought the Wolves back in the fourth quarter, and NO steals.
“I don’t know, J.J. is complaining about the steals,” Rubio said. “He had none. I got six. But it’s a team effort, you know? They count the steal for me, but he made John Wall to reverse and I went behind him. It’s a team effort.”
Luke Ridnour punctuated the victory by making a pair of free throws with 11.5 seconds after a sequence in which Adelman and Rubio differed over what to do coming out of a timeout.
“He gets a little hard-headed,” Adelman said. “We wanted him to take the ball out at the end there, and he didn’t want to take the ball out. He wanted the ball in his hands. I explained to him, ‘You’re our best passer, the best decision-maker we have.’ Taking it out of bounds is what we needed, and Luke’s the best free-throw shooter, so we tried to set that up.
“He’s just trying to do everything. He was unbelievable at the end of the game. Those steals were huge, I think he had more than that. He plays with such energy. Hopefully, it’ll rub off on everybody else.”