MINNEAPOLIS — As the old saying goes, revenge is a dish best served cold...with plenty of assists on the side.
OK, maybe that’s not exactly how the phrase goes, but don’t let facts get in the way here. Houston came to Target Center 25 days ago with a nine-game winning streak and handed the Wolves one of their most devastating losses in a season scattered with blown double-digit leads and second half collapses. Down 93-81 with 2:04 to play, the Rockets came back to win 111-109 in overtime to push their winning streak to 10.
On Wednesday night, the teams went to battle again at Target Center and the Rockets brought another nine-game winning streak to town. This time, the Wolves didn’t allow an improbable late run to lose against all odds (performance art as EiM calls it). Instead, they avenged that brutal loss with one of their best all-around performances of the season.
The ball moved crisply from one corner to the other in half-court sets and flowed smoothly in transition before Houston could organize themselves. Ricky Rubio put on a passing clinic in front of the hometown fans, matching his career-high and franchise-record with 17 assists. The Wolves collectively shared the wealth, finishing with 31 assists after dishing out 30 in the win over the Mavericks two days ago.
“I feel very in control of the game,” Rubio said after the convincing 119-105 win. “Teammates are making shots and I’m trying to look for them.”
Rubio has collected 32 assists, six steals, and he’s +21 on the court in two wins this week. He has only four turnovers, which means his assist-to-turnover ratio is 8 (Andre Iguodala leads the NBA at 5.00, then Chris Paul is at 4.18, and Rubio checks in third at 3.71).
Over the past two games, the offense has been heavily orchestrated by the Wolves’ smooth-passing point guard.
Andrew Wiggins hit his first two threes and attacked early and often, scoring 15 of his 28 points in the first quarter. He did about as good of a job as one could reasonably expect against MVP candidate James Harden. This was engaged Wiggins, active from the jump, locked-in to his matchup against one of league’s toughest tests.
Look! The rare Shazzist!
The Beard had 33 points, 12 assists, and six rebounds on the night, though his six turnovers and 2-11 shooting from deep held him back from truly dominating and carrying his now 31-10 Rockets to their tenth straight victory.
“We did a great job,” Towns said in the locker room after going for (ho-hum) 23 points, 18 rebounds, five assists, and three blocks. “We learned from our mistakes and did a great job of staying disciplined. It was just a great game. Games like this I can finally smile in front of you. It’s good to see us keep a lead and keep building on it.”
Towns was quick to point out his six turnovers, noting that Rubio’s 17-1 A/TO is a testament to his outstanding point guard play. Nevertheless, KAT was excellent on the night. Shabazz Muhammad was also outstanding off the bench, finishing 7- 11 from the floor (2-3 from deep) for 20 points and has now reached double figures in seven of his last nine games after doing that only six times over his first 26 games.
“I just love playing with Ricky,” said Shabazz Muhammad, who continued his recent hot streak with 20 points and seven rebounds after a rough start over the first two months of the season. “That’s one thing I do, I like to run. Every single time, even that last play over James (Harden), it was a remarkable pass. I don’t know how he got it through there. You’ve just got to be ready because at all times he’ll be ready for that pass.”
Muhammad has now made a three-pointer in eight consecutive games, and has previously talked about his work with new shooting coach Peter Patton.
“I’ve been really working on my three,” he says. “It’s really been paying off, just to have that confidence in it now where I just think every single time it’s going to go in.”
In the end, Thibs probably described this win the best.
“One game doesn’t solve everything for us, but I like the direction that we’re moving in now,” he said. “I think we have to continue to work at it, put everything we have into it each and every day, and our concentration has to continue to be what it is and get even better. If we do that, we can be a very well-balanced team and we can win games.”
NOTES & QUOTES
Thibodeau, when asked if Brandon Rush helps with team chemistry by being a spot-up shooter with so many playmakers in the starting lineup (h/t to @PDWolves for the excellent question):
“Well, the way Ricky controlled the game too, giving him the extra shooter, I thought it helped space the floor and I thought Brandon had some timely plays for us. Even if he’s not shooting it, people aren’t leaving him open, so it opens things up and you can get to rolling and get a lot of other things, particularly with their double team in the post which Karl was seeing a lot of double teams. That was good. They’re such a good team, they keep constant pressure on you. We were well aware that we have to play a full 48 minutes against them and they can come back quickly because of the way they shoot the three.”
Starting in place of the injured Zach LaVine (left hip contusion, day-to-day), Rush really shined with the starters. That’s the type of veteran performance the Wolves have been dying for this season. He defended quite well within the team scheme in one of the best defensive games of the season (he finished with three steals and two blocks) and balanced the floor out as the main perimeter threat in the corner offensively. Defenses have to respect him and close out hard or they’re going to pay for it.
“He’s a great shooter and I was looking for him in the corner,” Rubio added. All four of Rush’s corner threes were assisted by Rubio, and this was exactly the type of performance many expected out of Rush before the season started.
Thibs on closing out the Rockets:
“Well against a team like that, you can take some daggers and it can kill your spirit. They can make tough ones but they make a lot of good ones. They’re a very unselfish team, so if you have a lead they get it back. You have to be tough and get it going and even if they hit a tough shot to have the mental toughness to keep doing it over and over and over again and to stay disciplined. Harden is really good at drawing fouls, he shelves it, he’s clever, and he’s tough because he does everything; he can shoot the three and he can put it on the floor, so you have to be up on him, you have to concentrate on your body position and you have to play him with the appropriate technique and we’re still working on it with that regard.”
Muhammad on the impact scoring in transition has on the crowd:
“It really gets our fans up. That’s what we really need, especially playing a really good team in Houston. We really try to run and that’s something that we really need to do each and every game.”
On withstanding Houston’s run in the fourth:
“I just think we really concentrated. That’s something that Ricky said in the huddle and coach was like ‘remember last time.’ We can’t relax or anything. We know we beat those guys and that’s something that we had to do and we really focused on closing that game out.”
A few other things that stood out to me...
Thibs on the Wolves' transition defense: "We weren't very good early but we've improved significantly as we've gone along here."— John Meyer (@thedailywolf) January 12, 2017
Ricky Rubio had 17 assists tonight, including 6 to Karl-Anthony Towns. Of these 6 assists, 5 were layups/dunks. pic.twitter.com/WYELxSA9JG— Positive Residual (@presidual) January 12, 2017
Patrick Beverley to the Wolves bench: "Ricky Rubio is the biggest flopper in the entire world."— John Meyer (@thedailywolf) January 12, 2017
Yeah, well, that's just, like, your opinion, Patrick.