At times, it had to feel like Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio had an extra pair of arms the way he completely disrupted the Wizards’ offense in the fourth quarter, predicting passes, picking them off and turning the mistakes into points for his team.
The Wizards committed seven of their season-high 24 turnovers in the final nine minutes of their 87-82 loss to the Timberwolves – and those errors accounted for 11 of the Minnesota’s 22 points in the period. Rubio, whom the Timberwolves drafted with the fifth overall pick the Wizards swapped in 2009 for Mike Miller and Randy Foye, collected four of his six steals in that span to turn an eight-point deficit into a three-point lead with 28.2 seconds left, when he pilfered John Wall during a double-team with J.J. Barea that secured the victory.
“Rubio is great at anticipating plays,” said Martell Webster, who played with Rubio last season in Minnesota. “He got his hands on a couple of balls in key possessions for us. You give credit where credit is due but…we have to take care of the ball. We have to value the ball and we didn’t do that.”
Webster was the only Wizards starter who didn’t have a turnover on Wednesday at Target Center. Wall continued to have his struggles protecting the ball, as he committed six turnovers in a game for the sixth time in his last 11 games.
With the ball in his hands as often as it is, Wall is sure to have his share of turnovers. But Nene had a season-high seven; Trevor Ariza had four, A.J. Price had three and Emeka Okafor had two in the worst displays of ball-handling and passing of the season. The previous high for turnovers in a game was 21 on Dec. 15 in Miami.
“We did a terrible job turning the ball over – as a team. We all had a part in that,” Price said. “We gave them too many easy baskets based off our turnovers. Just careless with the ball for whatever reason. It was everybody. We had uncharacteristic turnovers. We thought a pass was there and pass the ball lazily.”
Wall took a few steps forward in leading the Wizards to a victory on Sunday over Philadelphia. He stepped up and scored six points in the final 93 seconds after Bradley Beal went down with a sprained left ankle, but even better, Wall had just two turnovers for the entire game.
But he took a few steps backward in Minnesota, where he had two turnovers in the fourth quarter and attempted an inexplicable three-pointer with 56 seconds remaining and his team trailing by one. Those blunders marred a night that was looking like one of his best games of the season, offensively at least, through the first 39 minutes of the game.
Feeling more confident in his jumper, Wall made his first five shots from beyond 18 feet, and likely would’ve had more than seven assists if his teammates hadn’t been fouled so many times after he set them up with scoring opportunities. But he had a solid assist roll at the start of the fourth quarter, when he assisted on three field goals during a 10-0 run that gave the Wizards a 73-65 lead. He fed Okafor on a layup, Price on three-pointer and Serphin on a hook shot, but wouldn’t have another assist for the rest of the game.
“I just think we weren’t into the flow of the offense early. I think we just had careless turnovers. There were passes that were there, but we waited too long or made it a tougher pass than it was,” Wall said. “They had 30 points off our turnovers and that kind of let them get themselves back in the game. We feel like we just gave this game away.”
Rubio would probably believe that he took it from them. He stole a pass by Price to set up a three-pointer by Barea, then plucked a poor Wall bounce pass inside and got two free throws during the decisive 18-6 run.
“He was unbelievable at the end of the game,” Timberwolves Coach Rick Adelman said.
With the Wizards trailing 83-82 with 30 seconds remaining, Wall felt a double-team coming but decided to use a spin move to get out of it rather than a pass. Wall stumbled as he made his move, Rubio knocked away the ball and Barea darted up the floor an uncontested layup.
“We turned the ball over, it seemed like every time we came down the court,” Ariza said. “We didn’t play with any energy. We just didn’t play the type of basketball that we’ve been playing of late. I felt like we relaxed [after building the eight-point lead]. I felt like we didn’t take care of the ball at all.”