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.