Rubio lifts Timberwolves to 87-79 win over Spurs

It was a tense tied game late in the fourth quarter, one these nervous fans were used to seeing their Minnesota Timberwolves let slip away.

Ricky Rubio then splashed a 20-foot jumper through the net for a lead, and the rookie point guard raised his arms, urging them out of their seats and trying to reassure them that times are changing around here.

It's certainly starting to look that way.

Rubio scored nine of his 18 points in the fourth quarter and dished out 10 assists to lift the Timberwolves to an 87-79 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night.

Kevin Love had 18 points and 16 rebounds and Nikola Pekovic added 14 points and 10 boards for the Wolves, who have beaten the Spurs two straight times in the same season for the first time since 2000.

“We weren't playing to win the game (last year),” Love said of a team that won just 17 times and faltered down the stretch on countless occasions. “This year, we're playing to win the game. We're confident. Real confident.”

Tony Parker scored 20 points and Tiago Splitter continued his strong play off the bench for the Spurs, scoring 12 points and grabbing seven rebounds.

But the Spurs scored only one field goal over the final seven minutes against a suddenly stingy Wolves defense. They also had only two offensive rebounds, which was a franchise record for a Timberwolves opponent.

Derrick Williams scored 12 points for the Wolves, who held the third-leading scoring team in the league 20.5 points under its average and outrebounded the Spurs 46-34 to improve to 9-10.

“It's a terrific win for our guys, especially against a veteran team like that that wins those games all the time,” coach Rick Adelman said. “Hopefully it's really a step forward for us.

The Wolves led 73-67 with less than nine minutes to play, but Parker kept the Spurs in the game by relentlessly attacking the rim. He scored on a driving layup, hit a pull-up jumper and then converted a three-point play on another explosion to the basket to bring the Spurs within 1 in a two-minute flurry.

Splitter then fed Gary Neal for a 3-pointer and a 79-77 Spurs lead.

Rubio responded with two free throws and a jumper, then fed Love for a layup that gave Minnesota an 83-79 lead with 1:45 to play.

The Spanish rookie raised his arms to cajole the crowd, who stood and cheered “Rubio! Rubio!”

Rubio had been mired in a terrible shooting slump over the last six games, hitting just 23 percent of his shots. He played more than 46 minutes in Minnesota's surprising win at Dallas on Wednesday night, then followed that by hitting seven of 12 shots in 42 minutes against the Spurs.

“Even though I didn't (shoot well) the last six games, I knew that I can do it because I work hard,” Rubio said. “My confidence is high. Sometimes your shot's going to miss a lot, but you have to keep shooting because if not, that's going to affect you.”

The Spurs are 10-1 at home this season, but they entered the Target Center just 2-6 on the road, including a 106-96 loss here on Jan. 2 in which San Antonio allowed the Wolves to shoot almost 58 percent for the game. That follows the pattern they've set all season, where they have allowed 104.4 points per game on the road versus just 89.5 at home.

“If we're on the road and we hold somebody to 87 points, I think we have a good chance,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “I felt good about that. But like many NBA games, the last four or five minutes, whoever scores wins.”

The Spurs were much better defensively in the early going on Friday night, forcing three turnovers on Minnesota's first three possessions and harassing Love into a 2-for-9 start.

But the Wolves turned the ball over just two times in the second half, Tim Duncan was 2 for 12 from the field and the Spurs offense ran out of gas.

The Wolves got Michael Beasley back from an 11-game absence because of a sprained right foot and Martell Webster played for the first time all season after having back surgery in September. Beasley had seven points on 3-for-11 shooting.

Love was playing his first game at home since signing a four-year extension worth more than $60 million. The deal allows Love to opt out after three years, which has the fans a little nervous. But they gave him a loud ovation upon introduction and hope that the Timberwolves continue their upward climb in the standings to keep him in Minnesota for years to come.

“This city is ready to explode,” Love said. “You can feel it.”

Notes: Matt Bonner scored 13 points for the Spurs. … Adelman joked that he has banned J.J. Barea from wearing his enormous Dallas Mavericks championship ring. “I don't want him to pull the other hamstring,” Adelman said. … Wolves C Darko Milicic missed the game because of illness.

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