The first time Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio returned after missing months because of a serious injury, he did so with a triumphant 18-minute, 8-point, 9-assist performance at Target Center fueled mostly by adrenaline in December 2012.
He went 0-for-3 and didn’t score a point in each of his next two games after that on his surgically repaired knee. His seven assists combined in those two games didn’t equal that Saturday night return before a big, boisterous home crowd.
This time around, Rubio is coming home to Target Center on Wednesday night after a comparatively understated return Monday in Dallas. He missed 42 games and nearly three months because of a severely sprained ankle in which muscles were torn and bone bruised.
This time, he’ll be coming home to a friendly crowd that likely will lift him up should he experience any physical or mental letdown from Monday’s return to action.
Monday’s return was understated because it came away from Target Center and because it came in a 100-94 loss during which Rubio nudged the Wolves back into contention only to watch the game’s final four minutes from the bench because he already had exceeded his playing-time restriction.
He reached that 20-minute limit about the time coach Flip Saunders noticed Rubio displayed something of a limp when he ran. Rubio received standard treatment Tuesday and is considered probable Wednesday against Miami.
“I was trying to do my best to get the feeling back,” he said after Monday’s loss. “It was tough because finally when I get a little rhythm and control the game, it was time for me to sit.”
He played 21 minutes and 22 seconds. During that time, he displayed a disruptiveness the team lacked at the top of its defense without him. He also displayed more inclination and better form with a jump shot revised with shooting coach Mike Penberthy while he waited these months for his ankle to heal.
“It has more arc on it,” Rubio said. “It’s good. I feel confident.”
Rubio went 4-for-9 from the field, had four assists, three rebounds and three turnovers and said he felt his command of the game grew as the game progressed, until he was sat down for the night just victory was within reach.
He believes he is an improved teammate and shooter from a three-month absence that tested his patience but said made him better all around.
“Trust me, I was dying inside watching the team and couldn’t be able to play and help them win,” Rubio said. “But I went through longer rehab two, three years ago and I learned. I learned how to be patient and take advantage of every situation. That helped me to grow up as a more mature player.”
He showed a willingness to shoot on Monday, when he attempted five shots in the game’s first six minutes.
“They were letting me shoot, and I’ve been working on that shot,” Rubio said. “And I’m going to keep shooting, especially [because] I knew I’d only play 15, 20 minutes. So I tried to get out there and do my thing.”
Rubio rejoined a team Monday that Wolves coach Flip Saunders calls a “work in progress” while he tries to integrate Rubio, Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic back into the lineup after each had been out since November.
Saunders said all three players are going through their own “training camp” while teammates in turn are re-learning how to play with them again.
“I’m just tired saying this is a process,” Pekovic said after his team trailed 10-0 to start Monday’s game and by 21 points in the second quarter.
Saunders has asked rookie star Andrew Wiggins to grow up during Rubio’s absence, so much that Saunders suggested Rubio is finding a completely different teammate than the one he played with throughout October.
“You can put a different face on him compared to the guy Ricky played with,” Saunders said.
Rubio connected with Wiggins on an alley-oop pass that Wiggins turned into a soaring slam dunk.
It was a highlight-reel play that tested both players’ memories when asked if they connected quite like that before.
“In preseason, there was one, I think,” Wiggins said. “There will be a whole lot more, definitely a lot more.”