VIDEO: Ricky Rubio’s no-look reverse bounce pass to Kevin Love is the assist of the night
DALLAS — Ricky Rubio is in his third NBA season. Yet in terms of games played, he’s not even a season-and-a-half into his expectation-laden career.
In a 112-106 win over the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday night, Rubio played in his 116th career game since joining the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2011 from his native Spain. His rookie season was first shortened by the lockout and then short-circuited by an ACL tear in his left knee. His recovery delayed his debut last season until Dec. 15, and it would take several more months to gain back the trust in his knee with the long and ugly scar that is ever so remindful of the agony he endured.
Now Rubio is back, all the way back. The doubts and fears certainly still creep into his thoughts now and then, but the magical point guard has figured out how to at least make the emotional scars disappear.
“It’s a big injury and you always think about it even if you don’t want to,” Rubio said after scoring 12 points with seven assists in a desperately needed road win. “I think I have to forget it already and just feel confident out there playing hard, going and running 100 percent. So I feel good.”
He looked good, too, with a beautiful baseline drive for his only two points of the fourth quarter to give the Timberwolves a 98-92 lead with 4:35 to go. He was at his creative best a couple minutes later in a late shot-clock situation. Working at the top of the arc, Rubio beat his defender, Monta Ellis, and as he got deeper into the lane, Rubio made a no-look, behind-the-back pass that split Ellis and the helping Dirk Nowitzki to Kevin Love. Love got off the 3-pointer just before the buzzer for a 106-96 lead with 1:55 to play.
“I saw Dirk was behind me and I was afraid of a blocked shot,” Rubio said. “I knew he was there. I got kind of lucky and he [Love] made it and it was a huge play.”
Still, there is work to be done for the 23-year-old Spaniard. He is averaging 33.1 mpg, very close to the per-game average during the 41 games of his rookie season. Also, however, nearly identical to his rookie mark is his field-goal percentage. Rubio is shooting just 35.8 percent from the floor, but the encouraging news is his 38.2-percent accuracy from beyond the arc, easily a career best.
He was just 1-for-5 from back there against Dallas, but it was a big one, putting Minnesota back in front, 69-68 in the third quarter as the Mavs had just taken the lead with a 27-14 run.
“I feel confident,” Rubio said of his shot following a 4-for-12 night. “I’m practicing in that area. I know I have to improve, I feel like I have to improve in all the areas. I just keep working hard and trusting myself.”
Coach Rick Adelman continues to preach patience, a quality that can unfairly be in short supply when Rubio’s young career is not looked through the proper lens of his early misfortune.
“He’s still playing as hard as he did before [the injury], he competes all the time, so I think that’s passed,” Adelman said of Rubio playing through mental barriers of the recovery process as he did for most of last season. “It’s just he needs experience. He’s a young player. He’s only played, combine both years, maybe one season — and half of that he was hurt. So he’s just very young.”