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Wolves 97, Dallas 84: Back to Work

Ricky Rubio was the Wolves’ rock as they pushed past Dallas in their fight for the last playoff spot.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Minnesota Timberwolves Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — Ricky Rubio is the model employee we should all strive to be like. You know that feeling when you come back from an eight day vacation and you dread having to get back into the thick of things? Well, imagine if during your vacation every major media outlet speculated your employer wanted to ship you off for a questionable replacement, despite your best efforts for the last five and a half years. Imagine that you’ve been hearing this for years.

It would be easy to mail it in but that’s not what Rubio did. He led the Wolves to a convincing victory against the Nerlens Noel-less Mavericks, 97-84. A team (among many) that they were chasing for the coveted eighth-seed in the Western Conference. “What happened? Nothing happened,” Rubio deadpanned after the game when asked about his focus after last week.

He chalked up a classic performance with 13 points, 14 assists, five rebounds and three steals. He hit on multiple long outlet passes leading to easy points and clogged passing lanes as we have all seen before. He put on a show for the crowd of nearly 16,000 people:

The fans were clearly happy to see him with the team as they gave him the biggest cheer during starting lineups. You have to give him credit for the mental fortitude he has shown throughout his career so it was good to see people display their appreciation.

Andrew Wiggins started the game on fire for the Wolves, as he scored 16 of the team’s 26 points in the first quarter. He had aggression that is usually reserved for the likes of Cleveland and Toronto and it was needed in the early going as KAT struggled on offense in the first half. Wiggins attacked Wesley Matthews consistently and he got to the line five times in the first frame.

“Offensively I wasn’t doing anything. Andrew always has that ability. He does so much for us on the court. It’s always great to see. I wanted him to go for 40, but he played amazing,” Towns said of Wiggins.

It was a physical game throughout, with the refs letting them play as there were only a combined 23 free throws attempted. Dallas doubled Towns immediately on almost every possession he touched the ball, which led to four of his five turnovers in the first half, finishing with a career-high of seven. He didn’t make great decisions with a small Mavericks lineup trapping him which must have been frustrating as he has made great progress throughout the year with that.

Despite his struggles, Towns showed fans why he is going to be a bona fide superstar in this league. The team’s lead grew to 15 points at one point in the third quarter, but seven turnovers in that frame allowed Dallas back in it as they were only down eight going into the fourth. KAT was done passing out of the double-team, as he matched Wiggins’ first quarter aggression with a fourth quarter that helped put the game away. He attacked the rim against defenders in Harrison Barnes and Dirk Nowitzki on his way to 14 points and five rebounds as the team pulled away. The game was tied at 75 before he led the team on a 22-9 run to end the game.

He finished at 26 points, 18 rebounds and three assists in total, with him and Wiggins playing a great two man game in the end. “Yeah, it’s amazing. These two can be a legend combo. We have to take advantage of that,” Rubio said of the two after the game. After his blistering first quarter, Wiggins contributed in other ways for the rest of the game ending with 27 points, seven boards and three assists. He hit the dagger three with a minute and a half to go to put the team up by 15 again.

Tyus Jones was a key contributor off the bench, logging the most minutes of any reserve, thanks in part to Dallas having smaller guards in Yogi Ferrell and Seth Curry. He hit all three of his three-point attempts and had a great play on defense where he stopped a fast-bast break on his own:

“For me, playing a team that plays three points guards, there’s going to be times when there’s two on the court. Just had to be ready,” Jones remarked when asked if the Wolves had planned for this. He finished with 11 points, two assists and two rebounds in just under 25 minutes of play.

Shabazz Muhammad only had two field goals but boy were they fun:

First one:

And shortly after that...

Bazz, Jones and Kris Dunn played great together in their limited time on the court. It was against a team missing a strong defensive addition in Noel, and the Wolves definitely had major size advantage in this one but this win makes you think the team can make it work with the three point guards it has on the roster.

Overall, the team defense was stellar throughout, and the team benefited from a cold shooting night by the Mavericks. Dallas shot a paltry 24 percent from beyond the arc, the only bright spot being Curry’s 31 points on 13-17 shooting. Barnes scored 20 points and grabbed six rebounds.

This was a key win as the Wolves have maintained their goal is still to make the playoffs in a tough Western Conference. Especially considering they now go on a four-game road stint, and the majority of remaining schedule is away from home.

Next up, they travel to Houston to take on the red-hot Rockets tomorrow night.