Ricky Rubio was nothing if not candid in the wake of the Timberwolves' 111-101 season-opening victory over the Pistons.
When asked to evaluate the Wolves' play, he said, "I hate to be that guy but we didn't play good."
Then later when discussing how the Wolves came together to pull out the win in the fourth quarter, Rubio had a quote that sounds as if it could sum up the entire existence of the Timberwolves.
"We can be a really good team. But at the same time we can really be a bad team," Rubio said.
The Wolves were inconsistent in their effort but got a win over team projected to finish outside of the Eastern Conference playoff race. That's important considering the Wolves hit the road to play the Jazz, Lakers and Clippers in the next five days.
"There's a lot of gray areas over there where we didn't play our best but winning feels good and we have to be satisfied and we have to keep working," Rubio said.
Specifically the Wolves need to work on their defense. At times they played zone, which worked to spark a few runs in both the first and second half. But Rubio, who finished with three points, let out a secret about the switch to zone.
"When you go to play zone defense, it's because your defense is not working, so we've got to be smarter with that and know that we didn't do our job playing man to man," Rubio said.
But Rubio said he wasn't expecting perfection given all the rust that has accumulated on the Wolves over the last nine months.
"First game of the season, a lot of people were rusty, me especially," Rubio said. "But I think we did something that is hard to do when you're not feeling good and just changed some coverage. Go to a zone and change the momentum of the game and that really helped down the stretch."
In that stretch run, coach Ryan Saunders revealed who he thought his best five of the night was. To close the last five minutes Saunders rode with Rubio, D'Angelo Russell, Karl-Anthony Towns, Josh Okogie and Malik Beasley and they turned a 95-95 game with 5:15 to play into a 10-point win.
It's safe to assume Towns and Russell will be a part of any late-game combinations going forward. Russell has also spoken about how he would like to play with Rubio in those situations because it could detract some of the defense's attention away from him.
"I have a pretty good idea of who I think is going to help us down the stretch," Saunders said. "I think that there's going to be one or two positions that can be a little more interchangeable based on who's defending, who's rebounding and doing the little things."
One criterion is who has the hot hand, and after a slow start, Beasley found that Wednesday night. He ended up shooting 10-for-18 for the game, including 3-for-9 from three-point range and hit a corner three to put the Wolves up five with 1:28 to play.
That small lineup meant Okogie was guarding Blake Griffin down the stretch, as he had for a good portion of the evening.
That was one of the bright spots for the Wolves in a game that helped show them where they need to improve.
"Josh helped himself and helped our team," Saunders said. "Josh is a fighter, the way he was able to fight a bigger guy in there, it did give me confidence."
But from the way Saunders answered the question it might not always be Okogie drawing those kinds of assignments. That worked for Wednesday. But what worked then may not work in the days to come.
Edwards happy with debut
Rookie Anthony Edwards provided a burst of offense in the first half of his league debut at a time when the Wolves needed it. He scored 11 of his 15 points in the first half on 5 of 12 shooting. Both Edwards and coach Ryan Saunders were happy with Edwards' debut. He looked like he belonged on an NBA floor.
"I felt like I played really, really good," Edwards said. "I just felt like I came off the bench and changed the intensity of the game. That's really it."
Saunders said he was impressed with some of the offensive reads Edwards made when Detroit confronted him with pressure.
"I've been fortunate to be around a number of young rookies and the poise that I thought he played with in letting the game come to him too was really impressive …" Saunders said. "For a young 19-year-old rookie player to be able to make those reads in his first game out, I was really impressed and happy more than anything [with] how engaged he was with his teammates and how confident he was with his teammates because that's something that we need with our group."