|16 December 2012|
EUROPEANS IN THE NBA
|Ricky Rubio was welcomed back with a standing ovation by the Minnesota fans, who awaited eagerly his return|
A small army of world-class players was in action on floors across the NBA over the weekend, but one European overshadowed everyone else in the star-laden league.
Ricky Rubio's return to action with the Minnesota Timberwolves, after nine months on the sidelines, generated the most popular articles on the league's official website and became a trending topic on social media, before and after it materialised on Saturday night.
The Spanish international underwent re-constructive surgery in his right knee on 21 March, after tearing his ACL ligament in a game against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Minnesota head coach Rick Adelman got the green light from his medical staff to use Rubio in the home game against the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday but was under strict orders to limit his playing time to 18 minutes.
The 22-year-old point guard made the most out of every second on the floor.
He came off the bench with 1:47 left in the first quarter to chants of 'olé, olé' from the jubilant 18,000-strong crowd in Minneapolis' Target Center arena.
Minnesota were trailing 28-18 and, as if by waving a magic wand, the Spaniard sparked them into life.
Rubio played for almost eight minutes in the first half and the Timberwolves recovered instantly, taking a 54-45 lead at the half-time buzzer.
"When he has the ball in his hands, I'm a better coach," Adelman said.
"He brings us all energy, no words can really describe it, you've just got to feel it out there on the court," team-mate Derrick Williams said of Rubio's contribution to the team.
Dallas fought back to tie the scores at 102 at the end of the regulation and force overtime, but the hosts prevailed 114-106 in the extra period with the pack of Euro-Wolves resolving the game.
Montenegro's Nikola Pekovic led all scorers with 21 points and added nine rebounds and Russia's Andrei Kirilenko collected another double-double with 14 points and 10 boards.
His compatriot, Alexey Shved, was a starter for the second consecutive night and shined bright throughout his 44 minutes on the floor with 18 points, including three crucial three-pointers, and six assists.
Rubio finished with a game-high nine assists and eight points and got a standing ovation from the crowd.
"He's a terrific player and he played well," the Mavericks' head coach Rick Carlisle commented.
"You couldn't tell he's been out for a year. So give him credit."
Rubio Feeling 100%, Nowitzki Still Waiting To Return
Rubio was all smiles after his his season debut.
"I didn't feel anything in the knee," he replied when asked about his physical condition.
"I feel great, I feel 100 percent. I have some issues in other parts [of my body] now but that's normal."
Rubio's reappearance and the excellent performances of the other Europeans reduced the fact the hosts were playing without US international and NBA All-Star Kevin Love, who was ill and watched the entire game from the bench, to a mere footnote.
Minnesota have now put together a four-game winning streak for the first time this season and climbed to sixth place in the Western Conference standings with a 12-9 record.
Dallas on the other hand have now lost three in a row, dropped to 11-13 and are currently out of the play-off spots in the West.
They are struggling without their big star, Dirk Nowitzki.
Just two months ago, when the German forward had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, the doctors said that he would be sidelined for a maximum of six weeks, definitely returning to action long before Christmas.
Most certainly, there was no indication that Rubio would be present in Saturday's game and Nowitzki would not, when the initial prediction was the Spaniard would require an almost year-long recovery.
There is still no timetable for Nowitzki's return, but the general assumption is that the EuroBasket 2005 MVP will not grace the floors again before the new year.