Ricky Rubio impresses, but Wolves fall to Thunder in sellout opener
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Timberwolves gave the Oklahoma City Thunder all they could handle but fell short 104-100 in Monday's season opener in front of a sellout crowd of 19,406 at Target Center.
"Give our guys credit," coach Rick Adelman said. "We had a chance to win it right there at the end. It is disappointing, but if we just keep our heads up and understand we did a lot of good things."
The Thunder (1-0) took a 52-46 lead into halftime, riding their superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. But the Wolves (0-1) -- with plenty of help from rookie point guard Ricky Rubio in his long-awaited NBA debut -- refused to let the Western Conference favorites pull away.
The Wolves cut the lead to 100-98 after rookie Derrick Williams with 43.3 seconds to go, then forced Westbrook to miss on the next trip down the court and had the ball inside of 20 seconds remaining.
Rather than call a timeout, Adelman let the Wolves go down for a chance to tie. Beasley drove baseline and drew contact but missed the shot and no foul was called, letting the Thunder escape with the win.
"We got the ball and I thought it was much better to try to attack them rather than call timeout," Adelman said. "If we call timeout, I thought maybe they'd be able to switch their defense.
"Beasley made the right play. He went to the basket aggressively, tried to get the foul. He didn't get the call. Those are things this team is going to learn. I really like a lot of the pieces we have and we have to find a way to win these games in the fourth quarter."
The sellout marked the first time since the 2007-08 season the Wolves were able to fill the Target Center for opening night. The capacity crowd made their presence known early and often -- especially whenever Rubio did anything -- giving the Wolves an added boost they haven't had inside their own building in quite some time.
Adelman said he went with a familiar starting lineup of Luke Ridnour, Wesley Johnson, Kevin Love, Darko Milicic and Beasley in part for consistency and in part because J.J. Barea and Rubio missed Wednesday's preseason finale against the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Wolves closed with a small lineup of Rubio, Barea, Love, rookie Derrick Williams and Beasley, who needed 27 shots to reach his team-high 24 points. The other four starters combined shot 27 total shots and Love needed just 14 shots to score 22 points.
"We are disappointed," Beasley said. "We thought we had a chance to win the game. But we can take a lot of good things out of that game. That is one of the best teams in the league, if not the best."
Rubio didn't make his first appearance until there were 3 minutes, 16 seconds left in the first quarter. He received a standing ovation and remained in the game for the majority of the rest of the half, with his first career assist coming in the second quarter on a fast-break dish to running mate Barea.
The Spanish import had three more assists in the first half, each seemingly more impressive than the last. He finished with six points, six assists, five rebounds and no turnovers in 26 minutes.
"I feel comfortable on the court, like I help the team and we are getting there," Rubios said. "We have a chance."
Adelman said Rubio "seems to have an awful lot of hype going his way, but I don't see him buying into that. I just see him as a young man who really wants to learn and really wants to do well. He is just going to get better."
Barea also impressed off the bench, showing why the Wolves coveted the veteran from Dallas. He finished with 14 points off the bench on six-of-11 shooting with two assists, two rebounds and no turnovers.
The Thunder and Wolves frantically exchanged baskets in the fourth quarter, but the superstars from Oklahoma City were simply too much for the Wolves to handle.
16: Shots in the first half for Beasley. The rest of the starters shot a combined 16. Beasley made 6-of-16 for a team-high 13 points.
12.5: 3-point shooting percentage for both teams combined in an ugly first half.
11:07: Time left in the game before Rubio attempted his first field goal. He was fouled on the shot and made both free throws. Rubio went on to knock down a big 3-pointer and another pull-up jumper in the fourth quarter that were crucial in the Wolves staying in the game.
Center Nikola Pekovic dressed but didn't play because of a strained groin suffered during training camp. Pekovic missed most of last week including the preseason victory in Milwaukee last Wednesday.
Pekovic said before the game he is still sore and is expected to miss Tuesday's game at Milwaukee. He is targeting Friday's game against the Miami Heat as his return date.
The foursome caught up like they hadn't seen each other in years, but in all reality, it had only been about two weeks. Hayward started the season with the Wolves before being dealt to the Thunder for future draft picks.
Hayward missed Monday's game with a thumb injury, but coach Scott Brooks expects him back in the lineup "any day now."
"I like his toughness. He has some range on his shooting and he is going to provide some defense," Brooks said of his fellow former Wolf. "I like what he is about. He had a great college career and we have always liked him."
Bloomington native Cole Aldrich was also in uniform for the Thunder on Monday night. The former Kansas Jayhawk is entering his second season. He did not play in the game, but Brooks has been impressed with him so far.
"I think he came back in a good place," Brooks said. "One of the things about this league is that it's difficult to step in and play.
"Only a few players can do that and have success. Cole didn't play a lot last year, but he learned a lot. He learned how this league works and learned about our system and this personnel in this league. I thought he came back a better player."
"I don't know much about him. I have been hearing about him for six years and I saw him for the first time 30 minutes ago. He is real, like a folk hero." -- Brooks, on Rubio
The Wolves are right back at it on Tuesday in their first back-to-back of the season. They'll to Milwaukee to face the Bucks, whom they beat in both of their preseason games over the past two weeks.
Adelman will not be with the team in Milwaukee. The team announced he'll miss the game to attend the funeral service of his mother-in-law. Assistant coach Terry Porter will be the acting coach in Adelman's absence.
From there, the Wolves come back for presumably two days of practice before facing the Miami Heat on Friday at Target Center. "It only gets easier," Adelman joked.