MINNEAPOLIS -- Don't look now but the Wolves have won four of their last six games, including three of five at home, after beating the Phoenix Suns 111-109 on Friday night. In his 11th game of the season, Ricky Rubio couldn't get anything to fall from the field (2-10) but still dominated the game and nearly finished with a triple-double -- tallying 10 points, 14 assists, eight rebounds, two steals and three turnovers -- in a season-high 37 minutes of action.
"He controlled the game and got it to the guys at the right time," Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. "He's a smart player. What did he end up with, 14 assists? He got the guys the ball that needed it. Yeah, that was an impact."
Rubio was +14 on the court and frustrated Eric Bledsoe (12 points, seven rebounds and six assists, but only 4-11 from the field) throughout the night. Most importantly, as Hornacek noted, Rubio controlled the game. He ran the offense beautifully, setting up his teammates with great looks that resulted in plenty of easy baskets, and the result was an offensive outburst that helped lead the Wolves to their 12th win of the season.
Rubio talked a bit about his expectations for the rest of the year after the game:
"It's sad that we had so many injuries this season, because I think that we could have done better, but nobody wants to cry here in this league it's how it is, there's injuries and the young guys had to step up and I think they had more time. Like I said, I talked to the guys and we can't look at our record because if we look at our record right now it wouldn't be playing for nothing. But actually, we are. We're playing for the future, for next year. And the future starts right now. We're gonna finish the second half of the season with about .500 [record in] just the second half. I'm just saying the second half, not the whole season. It's a new season. Everybody healthy, trying to stay healthy. That's 1-0 and we'll keep going from here."
Tonight brought a fun game to Target Center with a tremendous atmosphere in the arena. Not to mention, this was a quality win over a Suns team -- who lost another close game in the final moments, which reminds me of last year's Wolves squad -- competing for the 8th seed out West. The loss dropped the Suns a half game out of the playoffs -- now looking up at Durant, Westbrook and the streaking Oklahoma City Thunder (4 wins in a row) -- and it was hard to ignore how different the Suns looked after the NBA trade deadline brought major change to their team [Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, Miles Plumlee and Tyler Ennis are all gone].
"It's been kind of tough these last few hours so we're just trying to get the energy back," Gerald Green admitted during his postgame interview. "I feel like a lot of players, especially yesterday, were just a little down and out, a couple players gone that everybody was pretty good friends with."
The Morris brothers combined to score 45 points, and five other Suns scored in double-figures, but it wasn't enough to overcome the Wolves down the stretch as rookie Andrew Wiggins made a tough contested shot on his right-handed drive to the rim with 17.6 seconds left in the game (putting the Wolves up 110-107, essentially putting the game on ice).
"I'm expected it, because driving is one of the special parts of my game," Wiggins said when asked about stepping up the aggression in his game. "That makes me who I am. I'm ready for contact when I go in and I'm a rookie so I've just got to fight through all the calls like that and keep going strong."
Wiggins finished with 20 points (9-15), two rebounds and two assists in 37 minutes. "He's made that a few times," coach Flip Saunders said in response to Wiggins' clutch finish. "That's kind of his move on that side. It was nice to see him be aggressive on that." Here's that dunk, which brought an excellent home crowd out of their seats (rightly so, it was incredible, he even got slapped in the face during the sequence):
- Kevin Martin led the Wolves with 28 points, on 10-of-16 shooting. This was his 11th 20+ point game of the season and fourth straight 20+ point effort.
- Wiggins turns 20 on Monday in Houston. This was his final game as a teenager at Target Center and he went out with his 17th 20+ point game, which is more than all other NBA rookies combined.
- Gorgui Dieng finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds off the bench tonight -- but played almost 38 minutes due to Anthony Bennett's early injury that caused him to leave the game with a lower right leg contusion -- while Nikola Pekovic had a rough shooting night (5-16) but still got to the line 8 times (6-8) and finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds.
- Tonight was the second time this season that Minnesota has had three players record a double-double in the same game (Dieng, Pekovic, Rubio). The Wolves last did in Brooklyn (Pekovic, Rubio, Young).
- KG was inactive and Payne went 0-5. He was a foul machine (5) in 14 minutes, but Flip was impressed with his defense afterwards, especially for not having much of any NBA experience until now (he had logged 20 NBA minutes entering tonight). I thought he did some good things, but didn't play that great. I was inspired by the two shots he stuffed.
- Markieff Morris scored 31 points on 12-of-21 shooting, his third 30+ point game of the season. He entered the season with no 30+ point games in his career. Alex Len finished with six blocked shots tonight, matching his season and career-best. He added 11 points and 10 rebounds, his sixth double-double of the season.