It’s no secret that what Timberwolves fans salivated over most with Ricky Rubio’s arrival were his passing skills. From his first preseason game there was no mistaking the fact that Rubio could not only dish with the best of them, but did it with flair that was not simply window dressing but in fact quintessential to his passing success. The no-look pass might be decried as flashy, but Rubio makes it fundamental, using misdirection to set up open shooters in ways that a good old-fashioned chest pass never could.
But I’m not here to sing the praises of his fundamentals, nor even of his spectacular alley-oops to Randolph, Williams and others. In fact, one of the problems with alley-oops for the more or less casual basketball fan is that they’re hard to anticipate. Unless you’re really keeping track of big men along the baseline, it’s often a total shock when what looks like an errant pass becomes a beautiful lob. Those of us in the stadium often miss the next play because we’re too busy watching the scoreboard to see exactly how it happened. Basically, an alley-oop happens so fast that the elation of it is often only experienced in retrospect.
Which brings me to what I’m really here to talk about. This season, Wolves fans have learned to love the long assist. You know, the one that builds anticipation and rewards it. There has been no greater example than this through-Dirk’s-legs beauty:
Watch it as many times as you need. But take a moment and appreciate the gigantic inhale that happens in the Target Center as the ball skips between Nowitzki’s legs, as several thousand people simultaneously think, “Did what I just saw actually happen?” The tension in that held breath is just about the most exquisite thing, held for a second and then released in a great rush when Tolliver drains the three.
Other sports have their moments of panic and bewilderment: the quarterback scrambling and finding an unlikely receiver; a baserunner caught in a rundown. But what makes basketball rewarding to me is how a moment of beautiful, linear cohesion can break out of the game’s often seemingly chaotic action. There are always plays and counterplays running along under that roiling surface, but it’s moments like this one, when the sea parts and you can suddenly see all the gears as they lock into place that the game fulfills its promise.