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Rubio's return sparks Minnesota's OT victory over Dallas

The SportsXchange

MINNEAPOLIS -- Ricky Rubio again proved that a player doesn't have to score dozens and dozens of points to be the most important player on the basketball court.

After missing the final 25 games of last season and the first 20 games this season after undergoing knee surgery, Rubio returned to the Minnesota Timberwolves lineup Saturday night for the first time this season. While Rubio was limited to 18 minutes in Minnesota's 114-106 overtime victory over Dallas, his appearance in uniform seemed to make the Timberwolves a better team.

Rubio, who finished with eight points and nine assists, provided contagious energy to his teammates. He delivered passes that led to easy baskets and played a big role in Minnesota winning its fourth consecutive game. The Target Center crowd gave the Spaniard a standing ovation when he entered the game for the first time -- there were frequent chants of ‘Rubio, Rubio, Rubio' -- and the crowd seemed to expect the amazing each time he touched the ball.

"I can't say with words what it means," Rubio said. "I'm so proud to be playing for this team and in front of this crowd."

But Rubio's return was as much about production as it was about hype.

"Eighteen minutes and nine assists, that's pretty good," Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman said. "I think he's moving fine and got tired, but that was to be expected. ... When he has the ball in his hands, I'm a lot better coach."

Still, the Timberwolves (12-9) -- who were playing without All-Star forward Kevin Love -- needed a strong overtime session to hold off a Dallas team that charged from 10 points down in the fourth quarter.

Rubio had a chance to win the game on the final possession of regulation. The Timberwolves got an offensive rebound off their initial shot and Rubio dribbled down the clock before missing a 17-footer with about five seconds to play. Nikola Pekovic (21 points) and Andrei Kirilenko (14 points) both tried to tip in offensive rebounds, but neither could get a game-winner to drop before the horn went off.

But in overtime, the Timberwolves scored the first 10 points of the extra session. Kirilenko found Alexy Shved for a dunk off of the tip before following with five points of his own. Kirilenko's 3-pointer with 3:18 to play in overtime gave Minnesota a 109-102 lead and essentially clinched the victory for the Timberwolves.

"We got worn down by manpower and having guys foul out," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. "They made plays."

Shved (18 points), Derrick Williams (16), Luke Ridnour (15) and J.J. Barea (14) all reached double figures as Minnesota won its fourth consecutive game. O.J. Mayo and Derek Fisher each scored 20 to lead Dallas (11-13), while Elton Brand added 15 for the Mavericks.

"I'm just really proud of our team, they have just done it all year long," Adelman said. "They have battled, battled and battled. This group really competed. They really keep playing and that's what you love about them."

Rubio, who slammed a towel down on the bench after his shot wouldn't drop at the end of regulation, was relegated to being a cheerleader in overtime as his playing time is being limited. But he was pleased with the outcome.

"I couldn't play any minutes in overtime and that kills me inside," Rubio said. "But we got the win, that's amazing."

Could the night have gone any better for Rubio?

"Yeah, if I make that shot," Rubio said with a smile. "It was a great feeling with that crowd. I can't say it with words. It was amazing."

NOTES: While the Timberwolves got Ricky Rubio back in the lineup against the Mavs, they played without power forward Kevin Love. About 20 minutes before the game it was announced that Love would sit because of flu-like symptoms rather than the hand that he tweaked late in Friday's win at New Orleans. ... A night after scoring only 74 points and losing by 20 at Toronto, Dallas coach Rick Carlisle was more concerned with how his team defended against the Raptors than anything else. "Last night our struggles were related to our defense and what was not happening there much more than our offense," Carlisle said. "When we get stops, we score. That's been proven, that's our identity, and it has to start on the defensive end." ... Minnesota wing and ex-Maverick Josh Howard didn't play against his former team. Howard hyperextended his right knee during the second quarter of Friday's win at New Orleans. ... Dallas got forward Jae Crowder back in the lineup against Minnesota after missing two games because of flu-like symptoms.
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