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Game #2 Preview: Ricky Rubio’s Return

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Let’s take a trip down memory lane as Ricky Rubio returns to Target Center tonight as a member of the Utah Jazz.

NBA: Utah Jazz at Minnesota Timberwolves Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The Timberwolves trail by three points and have possession with under 30 seconds remaining. Luke Ridnour finds a lane and attacks the basket, only to be met by the helping Blake Griffin. Ridnour counters by kicking the ball out to Derrick Williams outside the arc on the right wing. Clippers guard Randy Foye, matched up with Ricky Rubio, rotates over to Williams to force an extra pass.

Williams swings it to Rubio in the right corner and there’s nobody there. The Clippers didn’t bother to rotate. And why would they? Rubio was 0-for-10 from the field in the game. That’s exactly who the Clippers wanted to take that shot.

Rubio caught the pass, configured his unorthodox shot and launched.

Buckets.

Rubio tied the game at 98 with 20 seconds left. After Los Angeles missed, the Wolves got one more shot with 1.5 seconds. Rick Adelman drew up a great sideline out of bounds play that resulted in a wide open Kevin Love trey.

Buckets.

There are many reasons the Minnesota Timberwolves fan base grew so fond of Ricky Rubio over the past six years. Whether it was a youthful enthusiasm for the game, an affectionate personality or a knack for flash on the court, Rubio built a loyal base of fans in Minnesota.

In honor of Rubio’s return to Target Center tonight, I took to Twitter to find out what examples won fans over in Minnesota. The aforementioned three-point shot against the Clippers was the most common response, but it was far from the only one.

Rubio’s boyish charm won over several fans. One of the most popular responses I received was the clip below, in which Rubio tells Alexey Shved to “change this face, be happy” and enjoy it!” This has been my go-to clip to resolve a bad mood for five years now. It never fails.

Rubio’s fun-loving personality dominated my mentions for most of the day on Thursday. His bench reactions especially seemed to put a smile on faces, such as this one:

Another gem: Rubio dusts anything and everything off Michael Beasley’s jersey!

Oh, and there was this. Ricky wasn’t feeling what the Godfather, Nikola Pekovic, was saying. Forget a win?

Rubio’s personality has always been difficult to ignore. He quickly became the heart and soul of the team from a young age because of it, and it’s really a shame he didn’t have a whole lot of talent at his disposal until it was too late. His leadership qualities remain underrated, at least for now.

What is not underrated, however, is Rubio’s knack for the flashy pass. It’s one thing to possess alien-like court vision and the ability to create passing lanes out of thin air. It’s another thing to add the flair that only the likes of Jason Williams, John Stockton, Bob Cousy and Steve Nash could replicate.

This talent didn’t hide itself when Rubio arrived in the NBA for his first game. It was on full display, particularly when he threaded the needle on a bounce pass that resulted in a reverse flush for Derrick Williams.

Once passing at the NBA level became too easy for Rubio, he challenged himself to throwing passes through defenders legs. No problemo.

Pretty soon, passing through legs became too easy for him, so he decided to dribble the ball between the legs of the NBA’s best players instead (granted, this example is from the Rookie-Sophomore game, but that’s not important).

Rubio’s razzle-dazzle passing was jaw-dropping. Every time you thought you had seen his best pass, he would pull something else out of his magic hat. Oh, you saw him drop an ordinary behind-the-back dime? Awesome, now watch him do the same thing but with side-spin on it to avoid a defender.

What’s more ... teams began to cheat to defend the behind-the-back pass. No, seriously. So he faked the behind-the-back pass, then squeezed a bounce pass through the crease for an assist.

You might be thinking, “so, what, he just goes behind the back in order to make a pass?” WRONG. He’ll use a behind-the-back dribble to get past defenders. Twice, actually, on one attack to the hoop.

Rubio’s passing flare is what he’s best known for. The eye-popping passing angles. The uncanny accuracy. The ultimate precision and the impeccable timing. He always entertained us as a passer.

Scoring has always been the knock on his game, with a few exceptions anyway.

Rubio’s charisma, personality and flashy play all combined to produce a can’t-miss show that was easy for fans to get behind. Sure, there are and always have been shortcomings in his game, but you knew every night what you would get from Rubio — a passion and desire to win, leadership, strong defensive effort and some exemplary passing.

It’s impossible to boil down each individual fan’s experience watching Ricky Rubio play and decide on one favorite moment. There’s too much to choose from — clutch shots, inhuman passes, funny dances and even some weird faces — and the last thing I want to do is assume the right to pick the winner of “Best Rubio Moment.”

But judging from my Twitter response, Rubio ignited something special in Timberwolves fans. People showed up to Target Center to watch him play. He was the beginning of the end of the post-KG lull for the franchise.

He played a vital role in the exhausting transition from David Kahn and Rick Adelman to Tom Thibodeau. Through several coaches and constant roster fluctuation, he stuck it out. He remained loyal amidst the tumult. Unfortunately, helping the franchise make the transition meant indirectly running himself out of town. I guess he wasn’t meant to be part of the “New Era.”

But, like Flip Saunders, his fingerprints will be all over any success this team accomplishes in the next few years.

How’s that saying go? Don’t be sad because it’s over, be happy because it happened? I think that applies here.

Thank you, Ricky, for seven awesome seasons.

**grabs Kleenex**

**wipes tears from face**

Okay, now onto the basketball game happening tonight.

Utah Jazz (1-0) at Minnesota Timberwolves (0-1)

Target Center -- Minneapolis, Minn.

7 p.m. CST

FSN

Projected Starting Lineups

Wolves

  • Jeff Teague
  • Andrew Wiggins
  • Jimmy Butler
  • Taj Gibson
  • Karl-Anthony Towns

Injuries: Justin Patton is OUT (foot)

Jazz

  • Ricky Rubio
  • Rodney Hood
  • Joe Ingles
  • Derrick Favors
  • Rudy Gobert

Injuries: Raul Neto is QUESTIONABLE (hamstring); Dante Exum is OUT (shoulder)

Prediction: People seem to be wrongly counting out Utah after the loss of Gordon Hayward. But there are several nice players on that roster, particularly guys that can defend. Though Minnesota will continue to struggle as the chemistry slowly builds, they get it done in front of the home crowd.

Wolves 109, Jazz 103