MILWAUKEE — Ricky Rubio is a magician with the ball in his hands. That is already known.
A bit more covert has been his transition from a pass first, second and third point-guard to a viable scoring threat.
Just ask the Milwaukee Bucks.
Rubio caught fire from beyond the arc in the first half of Minnesota’s 107-98 victory Wednesday night at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, torching the Bucks for five 3-pointers on five attempts in the first half. That bested his career high for threes made in a game by three, with Rubio previously connecting twice from long range 13 times in his career.
“I’ve been working with Terry Porter on getting more shots in,” Rubio said after the game. “I just want to work as hard as I can because I know shooting is one of my things I have to improve, and I’m going to keep working on that.”
It’s not just that more shots have been falling, though that is definitely a plus, but Rubio has been more aggressive in looking for his shot of late. Prior to tonight, the Spaniard had never put up more than five 3-pointers in a game, let alone a half.
“It’s just a matter of him keeping working at it,” Minnesota head coach Rick Adelman said. “When he gets an open look, he just needs to shoot it to save all that time. He’s going to get better at that.”
Rubio did cool off in the second half, missing the only three he attempted and only scoring four points, but he more than made up for that on both ends of the court. Rubio had six steals and nine assists in the second half alone, finishing with 19 points, 12 assists and eight steals, a new career high.
“We were being more aggressive and they were playing our pick and rolls trying to find the shooters,” Rubio said. “We didn’t want them to get easy shots. We tried to contest the shots and sometimes you’re going to steal the ball.”
As for the Bucks, they missed a chance to drop their playoff magic number to one after Philadelphia lost. With Boston beating Detroit, Milwaukee moved to 2.5 games back of the Celtics for seventh place in the Eastern Conference.
“I thought the whole game for us was slow. Not a great performance for us,” Bucks head coach Jim Boylan said. “Offensively, I think we missed 10 point-blank layups in the first half alone.”
Turnovers killed any and all momentum Milwaukee had in the fourth quarter. Down just four with 6:06 left, the Bucks committed five turnovers in their next seven possessions as Minnesota ran away with it.
“Every time we tried to make our move, we turned the ball over,” Boylan continued. We would get a stop, get some guys out on transition, but we were somehow unable to get a good shot.
“We are not normally a turnover team. We are a very low turnover team, and today we were a very high turnover team … It’s a tough one for us to swallow right now at this point in the season.”
One of the lone bright spots was Ersan Ilyasova, who continued his torrid pace, leading all scorers with 29 points. It was his fourth consecutive 20-point game, the longest stretch of his career, to go along with his game-high 12 rebounds.
“Offensively, we shared the ball and took good shots. We just had a lot of turnovers at the end of the game,” Ilyasova said. “They were critical.”
The win was Adelman’s 999th of his career, leaving him one short of the milestone that he said he won’t reflect on until he gets there and could come on Friday with Toronto visiting Minnesota. He would become only the eighth coach in NBA history to reach that mark.
Milwaukee will now travel to New York, winners of 10 straight games, as it tries to lock up a playoff spot before hosting Toronto on Saturday.