Ricky Rubio scored 33 points on 12-20 shooting, hitting four of five three-pointers on the night as the Minnesota Timberwolves beat the Los Angeles Lakers 119-104.
“It just opens up the floor, they have to play everybody honestly,” said coach and team president Tom Thibodeau after the game. “He’s doing a good job of moving without the ball, particularly when Karl and Wig are being double-teamed, he’s finding open areas. He’s making a lot of good reads.”
Before the game, Thibodeau said that Rubio was playing his best basketball of the season. After it, he explained that much of the improvement came incrementally, and that sometimes the subtle improvements game-to-game can get lost until a night like tonight happens.
“That’s the thing, that’s a lot about hard work. Oftentimes you tend to forget, it’s step by step, and the improvement is incremental, and then all of a sudden you take a look back and you see that it’s significant,” he said.
“But if you really studied him month-by-month, each month has gotten a lot better. He took a hit early on with getting injured that first month, but then after that first month, it’s been straight uphill.”
Only downside for Rubio tonight? His free throw streak came to end, 43 in a row until missing 1 in the 4th. Still has hit 61 of his last 63.
— Alan Horton (@WolvesRadio) March 31, 2017
Karl-Anthony Towns had 32 points and nine rebounds, his 18th 30-plus game this season. Lost in Rubio’s career night and Towns’ usual dominance, however, was Gorgui Dieng, who had 11 points, 15 rebounds and six assists — plus plenty of other contributions on defense that do not show up on the score sheet.
“That’s what we need from him. He’s gotta do all the dirty work for us. He’s gotta rebound, defend, run the floor, make that read — if Karl’s being fronted, to get up into the high post quickly. To move to the proper areas. To play behind the basket, play behind the defense, put pressure on the rim,” said Thibodeau.
“They may seem like small things that are huge things in terms of winning. And the more disciplined he is, the better he does with that, the better it is for all of us. That’s what we need from him.”
The Wolves got out to a 15-point lead midway through the first quarter, but fell into defensive lapses and were tied 37-37 at the end of one. They went into halftime with a 67-60 lead, then clamped down on defense and blew out the Lakers in the second half.
— FOX Sports North (@fsnorth) March 31, 2017
“We started off the game, I thought we were really active early. We got off to that lead, and then it became an offensive game where we were trading baskets. The big thing has to be the intensity and the discipline and sticking with the plan,” said Thibodeau.
“We have to develop more of a defensive attitude, and so I think when we do that, we’re more than capable of playing great defense. But right now, we’re not consistent enough, and it’s something we have to work at.”
While the Wolves are unlikely to make the playoffs this year, they surpassed last year’s win total of 29 tonight and have five nationally-televised games coming up in April. If they want people to buy in, they have to establish that defensive mentality every night.
The improvements this year have been modest, but meaningful. And while the postseason may have eluded this year, setting a tone for Year 2 of the Thibodeau regime should not.
Here is the Fox Sports North feed of Thibodeau’s press conference:
Rubio downplayed his personal accolades after the game so much so that his teammates drowned out most of his media appearance. He did acknowledge his improvement, however. “It feels good,” he said. “I’m feeling a lot of confidence, and I think the experience is starting to pay off and the work that I put in too.”
Towns had a good night himself, but wanted to focus on Rubio and the team win. “It’s big,” Towns said of Rubio’s 33 points. “When he’s doing something like that, it adds so much value to the game.”