Ricky Rubio

Ricky Rubio impresses in first game back with Timberwolves, an overtime win over Dallas

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Ricky Rubio returned to the Minnesota Timberwolves lineup on Saturday, his first game action since tearing two knee ligaments last March.

In his first stint back, it was as though he never left.

Rubio was dazzling in his relatively brief appearance, and his mere presence brought an energy to the game that the Mavericks, over the course of the evening, were largely unable to match. After trailing by as many as 13 early, Minnesota got the overtime victory 114-106, to improve to 12-9 on the season.

Rubio was on a minutes limit, and was targeting playing 16-18 minutes in his return. T’Wolves head coach Rick Adelman spaced out Rubio’s minutes to perfection, choosing to bring him off the bench both late in the first quarter, and then again at the 4:37 mark of the third.

He even saved a couple of minutes just in case they were needed, which they were down the stretch as Dallas made a furious comeback to send the game into overtime, an extra session that Rubio was forced to watch from the bench.

Rubio’s final statistical line on the night wasn’t all that impressive — eight points, nine assists, three steals, and two turnovers in 18 minutes of action. Believe it or not, the assist numbers could have been much higher. Rubio had several passes that were right on target to open teammates who ended up with spectacular looks, but simply couldn’t finish.

The impact Rubio had on this game, however, went far beyond the box score.

When he checked in late in the first quarter to a wild ovation from the crowd, his team hadn’t yet found any flow, and was trailing by 10. The array of lobs, behind-the-back passes, and even one through a defender’s legs energized the building, and by the time he checked out at the 6:16 mark of the second, the Mavericks lead was down to two, and was erased entirely by a three-pointer from Alexey Shved on the very next possession.

The court vision that Rubio possesses is a rare gift, and one that’s on display from the moment he steps on the floor, no matter how long it’s been since he’s done so. The passes are almost always delivered with laser-accuracy, right on time, and to teammates that have to either be fouled or botch the play entirely for the ball not to end up going through the basket.

It wasn’t all perfect for Rubio on this night; he fouled Derek Fisher a couple of times down the stretch that gave Dallas unguarded points from the free throw line needlessly, and missed an open look from three-point distance with three seconds left that would have been the game-winner.

But that would have been too perfect an ending.

It was more than enough that he was finally back at all, and was able to showcase the energy, vision and flair that we saw from him a season ago in his very first game back.

Aaron Gordon both legs over the mascot, ball-under-the-legs dunk (VIDEO)

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TORONTO — Zach LaVine won the NBA All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest, but in an epic night for my money this was the single best dunk.

Orlando’s Aaron Gordon broke ground with this one — guys have jumped over mascots and other players before (and a Kia hood), but by splitting their legs apart. Gordon just put both legs over Stuff (that’s the mascot’s name, Stuff the Magic Dragon, I don’t make this up) — and took the ball off the mascot’s head, went under his legs, and threw it down.

Insane.

Gordon deserved a trophy for his performance in this dunk contest.

Zach LaVine edges Aaron Gordon in epic, insane Dunk Contest

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TORONTO — That. Was. Amazing.

In a dunk contest that will go down with the all-time greats — Jordan vs. Dominique, Dr. J from the free throw line — Minnesota’s Zach LaVine defended his dunk contest title. Barely. Because Orlando’s Aaron Gordon was doing dunks nobody had ever seen before.

And LaVine was bringing it just as hard.

The two men advanced to the finals — dismissing Will Barton and Andre Drummond, each of whom had good dunks — and that was when it got wild.

There were four second-round dunks, and four perfect scores of 50. (That was in spite of Shaq, who wanted to give nines for second attempts.)

“I was prepared for four (second round dunks),” LaVine said. “To tell the truth, he came with something that no one else has done. He did two dunks that were just crazy with the mascots, jumping over them. We just kept pushing each other until the last dunk. I’ve got to give it up to my boy Will “The Thrill” Barton. It’s because of him I think I won. Because he said try to go from the free-throw line. I’d never done that before, and I just tried it. So I guess it was a great dunk. I think it was the best one ever.”

The Air Canada Centre crowd was exploding with every dunk. The two men went to a dunk-off — and got two more 50s.

“If I knew it was going to be like that, I would have prepared better and we would have been here dunking all night, going back 50 after 50 after 50 after 50,” Gordon said. “We would have been here all night. I didn’t know it was going to be like that. I was just hoping Zach was going to miss, and it wasn’t going to happen. You could see as my facial expressions when Zach dunks it, it’s like okay, that’s a 50. Like I know we’re going to have to dunk again.”

So they went to a second-round of overtime, where LaVine put up another 50 and won the contest.

Gordon was close to perfect.

Zach LaVine can flat-out fly.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon with the over-the-mascot mad dunk

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TORONTO — Aaron Gordon was giving Zach LaVine all he could handle in the Dunk Contest.

He blew the lid off the Air Canada Centre with this dunk in the first round — and it wasn’t even his best dunk of the night. Never seen this before.

This dunk contest was awesome, so much more video to come.

Zach LaVine opens Slam Dunk Contest title defense with spectacular behind-the-back slam (VIDEO)

during the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge 2016 at Air Canada Centre on February 12, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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TORONTO — Zach LaVine clearly heard all the talk that Aaron Gordon or Will Barton had a chance to upset him in the Slam Dunk Contest. He came out ready to prove his superiority right off the bat. This behind-the-back slam was his first attempt of the night:

Even better was the reaction, both from Andre Drummond and from LaVine’s Minnesota teammates: