MINNEAPOLIS — This is a story that feels pre-written. There was, after all, a sense of inevitability in what took place at Target Center on Sunday night.
Ricky Rubio killed his old squad and the Utah Jazz stomped the shorthanded Wolves. In the most critical home game in what feels like an insufferable eternity, an old friend, Ricard of El Masnou, Spain, returned to his former city as the starting point guard of one of the hottest teams in the NBA; Utah is 25-5 in the last 30 games.
Rubio performed masterfully and exactly as expected given his relationship with the Wolves and the high stakes of this game as the season draws to a close in the ultra competitive Western Conference. The result? A blowout Jazz win in front of a packed house of people wanting and expecting much more than Thibodeau’s Wolves delivered them.
It was Rubio’s second time back inside of the arena that he helped bring to life during the extremely dark times of Wolvesdom. Many of his most loyal fans referred to him as the Spanish Unicorn over six seasons. I was one of them. He was OUR point guard; the prodigal Floor General who was drafted to save the Wolves from themselves, who was never actually going to play in Minnesota, as the national media said. But Ricky did, and that’s just one reason many people around town still love the guy to this day. Rubio wasn’t a perfect player by any means, but he was plenty good enough and certainly became one of us over the years. The longer you live in Minnesota, the more this concept will make sense. We sure are a prideful bunch in the North.
For years, Rubio’s dazzling passes, disruptive defense, and flair for the dramatic were chief reasons to even watch the team in the first place. His good buddies Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic certainly were, too. But those days are long gone...or at least it feels like they should be. The fans that showed up to watch this meaningful 2018 Wolves game in April deserved much more than another familiar dud of the past. They probably walked back through the skyways to their cars, sitting cold in ramps A, B, or C, feeling a bit fooled and a little tricked into buying what the Wolves are selling these days as the sour taste of a crucial blowout home loss lingered in their mouths.
In hindsight, though, it makes perfect sense that Rubio—questionable to play after missing Friday’s game against Memphis with left hamstring soreness—would make his return to action in the most meaningful April game at Target Center in 13 years. Of course he was going to respond with a revenge game against his old organization. Listed as questionable to play? Everyone knew Rubio wasn’t going to sit this one out on the bench watching in a sport coat. There was absolutely no chance of that happening.
With playoff seeding on the line, Rubio led the charge for the Jazz. He took advanatge of Jeff Teague sitting out with a sore knee. In 27 minutes of playing time, he carved up the Wolves in the pick-and-roll and decided this was the perfect occasion to catch fire from deep. Why wouldn’t it be? Going head-to-head against his point guard student of seasons past, Tyus Jones, Rubio nailed 5 of 6 from beyond the arc. He finished with 23 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block on 9-14 shooting.
“I’ve been feeling comfortable for the last couple months,” Rubio said when asked about how comfortable he was with his shooting these days. “Playing here [in Minneapolis] was emotional, but I knew at the same time that it was a huge game, so I focused myself to really have a big impact on the game.”
The best revenge is massive success, as Sinatra once said. Rubio clearly had unfinished business and an old score to settle on Easter Sunday. He settled it with an impressive performance. Rubio wasn’t the only Jazz player that took it the Wolves either. Donovan Mitchell recorded his 43rd 20+ point performance of the season with 21 points on 10-15 shooting. Rudy Gobert grabbed 13 rebounds and completely dominated defensively throughout the game, making things difficult for Karl-Anthony Towns and Taj Gibson. The Jazz bench also outscored the Wolves second unit, 50-26, further exposing the lack of depth in Minnesota (particularly on the wing).
For Rubio, there was clearly extra motivation to beat his former team. “Of course, when you play against your ex-team, I mean we always talk about it,” said Rubio.
”When Thabo [Sefolosha] plays against Atlanta, Jonas [Jerebko] with Detroit or Boston, everybody had their old team and they want to play good there. It feels good to play there.”
Mitchell, the smooth rookie from Louisville, was also complementary of Rubio afterwards.
“He’s doing his thing and it’s great to have games like that against teams that you used to play for and I’m really happy for him,” said Mitchell. “He’s knocking down shots, talking and being active and he’s always engaged. Especially now with the playoff push coming and it’s good to have him back out there.”
On this particular night, Rubio likely left Target Center with a rare feeling of vindication. Wolves fans, on the other hand, walked away with a familiar feeling of uncertainty, wondering how Rubio and the Jazz could come into town and silence a playoff like atmosphere so quickly.
I guess that’s what revenge tastes like.