NEW YORK – Two games and four days after he approached becoming the fifth man in NBA history to reach an elusive quadruple-double game, Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio assumed command of Sunday afternoon’s 100-85 victory at Brooklyn perhaps even to a degree beyond.
He did both in New York City, following Wednesday’s nine-point, 12-assist, 10-rebound, eight-steal, one-turnover game against the Knicks in Madison Square Garden with Sunday’s eight-point, 15-assist, four-steal, two-turnover performance from which everything else seemed to flow for his team against the Nets at Barclays Center.
After losing 107-102 to the Knicks, the Wolves have beaten Sacramento and Brooklyn consecutively, and on Sunday they sent the Nets to their fifth consecutive loss. Young centers Karl Anthony-Towns and Gorgui Dieng combined for 44 points and 20 rebounds and reinstated starter Tayshaun Prince’s defense helped limit Brooklyn star Joe Johnson to a 2-for-10 shooting day.
But perhaps it was Rubio’s play at both ends of the court that left Wolves interim head coach Sam Mitchell feeling better emotionally after the game than he did physically before the game.
“My spirits feel better,” he said, “but you know how the flu is: It gets you.”
Rubio again struggled with his shooting — 1-for-6 from the field — but still played with more pace and feel than anyone on the floor. He had 11 of his assists by halftime, 13 by third quarter’s end and might have set aim at 17 — both his career and the franchise high he shares — had Mitchell not eased back on playing his starters when the Wolves, after failing to do so six times this season, held on to a double-digit lead throughout the fourth quarter.
“I feel good, feel with energy and I did what a point guard has to do,” Rubio said. “I controlled the tempo of the game, and my teammates were hot so I tried to get them involved every time. That’s what I have to do: get everybody involved. The big guys were making shots so I was looking for them every time. … I’d rather win the game than make the record. I felt pretty happy.”
The Nets scored the game’s first basket and then never led again. Mitchell considers the near wire-to-wire victory the continuation of a change in course in the past week. The Wolves outscored the Knicks 62-37 in Wednesday’s second half, beat Sacramento 99-95 on Friday and led the Nets by as many as 20 points in Sunday’s fourth quarter.
“You’ve seen us have some big leads and blow ’em,” Mitchell said. “Our guys made a conscious effort trying to build off the last six quarters, just try to play each quarter as good as we can, as mistake-free as possible and just build off the last quarter we played.”
Rubio provided the pulse for his team to do that, both offensively and defensively.
“His defense is just unbelievable,” Mitchell said. “The way he helps, recovers, guards his man. And he’s not turning the ball over. He’s running the offense, getting the ball to the right people at the right time.”
Two of those people were Mitchell’s tag-team center combination. Dieng scored 16 points of his 20-point, 10-rebound double-double before halftime, and Towns scored 14 of his 24-point, 10-rebound double-double after it.
Asked if Rubio had reached a different level Sunday even after he played particularly well his past two games, Towns’ eyes widened.
“The last two?” he asked. “I mean, I think he has been good the whole season.”