Wessel: Ricky Rubio returns, and so does the energy at Target Center
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MINNEAPOLIS -- It would have been perfectly understandable if Ricky Rubio was rusty.
It would have almost been refreshing, actually. It would have been proof the Minnesota Timberwolves' point guard is indeed human and capable of not always exceeding everyone's expectations.
But he isn't. At least doesn't appear to be.
On a night when Kevin Love was home sick, it became increasingly clear that this is Rubio's team.
Just nine months after reconstructive knee surgery, Rubio made his season debut with 1 minute, 47 seconds left in the first quarter in Saturday's 114-106 overtime win over the Dallas Mavericks.
He wasted no time reminding the 18,173 fans inside Target Center why they adore him so much, dishing his first assist with seconds remaining in the quarter. He then looked over at the bench and couldn't help but crack a smile.
He was back. Almost like he never left.
As usual, the crowd hung on his every move. He got a standing ovation when he entered the game. He got a standing ovation when he left the game.
Fans cheered every time Rubio touched the ball. You got the feeling that the kid could have farted into the microphone at the scorer's table and the crowd would have roared with approval.
"I can't say with words how it feels," Rubio said afterwards.
Rubio finished his first eight minute stint with four assists and four points. He ended the game with 19 minutes -- about the amount coach Rick Adelman said he would get -- nine assists, eight points and four rebounds.
He sat out the overtime period but said he would have loved to be out there. And, in classic Rubio form, he made everyone else on the court better when he was out there.
"When he has the ball in his hands, I am a better coach," Adelman said after the game, cracking a rare joke and an even rarer smile.
Rubio's impact wasn't just felt on the court. There was an energy inside Target Center. An energy that has been missing since -- well, March 9 when Ricky Rubio tore his knee up against the Los Angeles Lakers.
And that energy isn't just limited to when Ricky is on the court. For the first time this season, the fans seemed truly tuned into the game -- getting on the officials, hanging on every position, getting on their feet when the Mavericks were forced to call a timeout.
Rubio almost seems embarrassed by it all. He is the rare athlete that never wants to be bigger than the team. He'd rather have the crowd cheering for the entire team than chanting his name.
A team official mentioned before the game Rubio wanted nothing more than this to be just another game with no added attention or spotlight on him. He missed what would have been a game-winning shot at the end of the regulation, but the Wolves won. And that's all he cares about.
The hard part is over. The first game is in the books. Rubio can return to normalcy, or as close to normalcy as a borderline pop star like Rubio can get to.
"We are going to do big things with this team this year," he said.