There hasn’t been much to cheer about at Target Center while the Minnesota Timberwolves endure another long, painful march toward another draft lottery.
Wolves fans do have Ricky Rubio, though. And that was enough on Tuesday night.
Rubio had his first career triple-double with 21 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists, leading the Timberwolves to a 107-83 victory over the San Antonio Spurs.
”That’s the first one of many to come,” Wolves guard J.J. Barea said.
Rubio made 9 of 17 shots and grabbed his 10th board with 9:14 to play in the game, earning a standing ovation from the long-suffering Wolves fans. Alexey Shved broke out of a big slump to score 16 points and Barea had 17 for the Wolves, who hit 12 3-pointers.
”I just try to be aggressive all the time,” Rubio said. ”Stats are the last thing I try to watch. The victory is the most important thing.”
Stephen Jackson had 14 points and Danny Green 10 for the Spurs, who left Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard at home to rest after they throttled Oklahoma City on Monday night. San Antonio turned the ball over 17 times, leading to 30 points for Minnesota, and shot just 35.4 percent.
The team with the best record in the West lost to Portland by 30 on Friday and then was drilled by one of the worst teams in the conference on Tuesday night.
”We’ve got to get things together and go back to who we were,” said Manu Ginobili, who had seven points on 2-for-10 shooting. ”Because it’s happening too often now.”
A season that started with high expectations quickly unraveled for the Wolves thanks to a bevy of injuries. They are 7-25 since Kevin Love broke his right hand for the second time on Jan. 8. One of the few bright spots during this awful stretch has been Rubio’s gradual return from a torn knee ligament last March.
He’s really turned it on over the last month, and he put an exclamation point on his return against the Spurs.
”He’s playing with such a resolve just trying to get us over the hump,” coach Rick Adelman said. ”You see it. He’s had that effort, but we had so many people step up tonight and it really made a big difference.”
Somehow, Minnesota managed to shirk several slumps that set in while the team was worn down from playing short-handed. They have been the worst shooting team in the league for most of the season, including just 29.3 percent from 3-point range entering the game. But they hit five of their first six shots from long distance and got a boost from the best game for Shved in weeks.
Shved shot better than 28 percent in just two of his previous 10 games, but was 5 for 6 in the first half to help the Wolves take a 15-point lead.
Rubio punctuated the night with a behind-the-back dribble and layup in the fourth, bringing Wolves fans to their feet.
”He alright,” Jackson huffed. ”You know, I mean, I’m into winning championships. I’m not into guys playing alright, averaging 30 and 20 on sorry teams. I’m into winning championships. He got some upside, I’ll say that. But it’s all about winning to me. It’s not about what you do on your personal stats.”
The game was as notable for who wasn’t playing as who was.
Duncan and Leonard stayed back in San Antonio for the second half of a back-to-back with what the team called sore left knees. But coach Gregg Popovich has been known to rest players, especially older veterans like Duncan on back-to-backs. Point guard Tony Parker is also out for another few weeks with a sprained left ankle, so the Spurs started Jackson, Matt Bonner and Cory Joseph in their places.
They’ll get no sympathy from the Timberwolves, who have been playing with nine healthy players for the last two weeks. Love, Chase Budinger (knee), Andrei Kirilenko (calf), Nikola Pekovic (abdomen) and Brandon Roy (knees) all were unavailable.
”They played better than we did in a lot of ways,” Popovich said. ”Both defensively and offensively they played a very good game and kicked our butt.”
Notes: The Wolves made just 7 of 18 free throws (38.9 percent). … Nando De Colo was the only other Spur in double figures with 13 points. … Luke Ridnour scored 14 points for Minnesota and Shved had seven assists.