The looks of disbelief have abated somewhat this season in the wake of Ricky Rubio’s arrival, but I had gotten pretty used to the dismissive comments that came along with admitting I was a Timberwolves fan over the last several years. “Oh really? I didn’t know there were any left,” was a typical one. But then again, I see Laker fans bemoaning their two-year drought since a championship and I think to myself, “At least I don’t have it as bad as they do.”
When it comes to Laker fans (or Yankee fans—you know what I mean: fans of perennially successful franchises), there seem to be only two settings: championship or immense disappointment. Anything less than the ultimate prize is worthless, the regular season doesn’t count, when are they going to turn it on, will they even be able to turn it on this season, etc. They must look at a team like the Timberwolves and wonder why we even bother. Sometimes I may have even wondered myself.
But there I was last Friday night, watching the Timberwolves struggle out of the gate against the newly ascendant Los Angeles Clippers. And they struggled and struggled before tying the game on a Rubio three on their penultimate possession and winning it on a Kevin Love three at the buzzer. The victory was sweet, but what made it sweet was not just the win, but the little things that went into it.
Rubio had been 0-10 from the floor up until that three dropped, scoring all of his points from the line. But when the ball rotated to him on the wing, taking the shot was the right thing to do and he let it sail with a hint of an expectant smile on his face. Even if he had missed it, it was the right shot to take, and not him forcing the action. It’s been apparent for some time, but that shot dropping was yet more evidence that Rubio has a real competitiveness lurking beneath his calm demeanor, a fire that helps him step up when it counts. That was part of it.
The other part was Love catching the inbounds pass and hitting that three as time expired. Credit Adelman with a beautifully drawn up play that had Rubio and Wayne Ellington screening DeAndre Jordan and thank ex-Wolf Randy Foye for not switching onto Love, but Love was the one who drilled the shot when he had missed a couple other shots that could have won them games earlier in the season. As he turned and strode towards mid-court, arms stretched out and his teammates running to mob him, it felt, well, not like a championship, but great.
And for now, a great feeling like that is all I need. Being a fan of an underdog means embracing the moment for what it is. Beating the Clippers in a regular season game, especially with Chris Paul out, doesn’t mean the Wolves have arrived, or even that they’re making the playoffs. Following that victory, the Timberwolves have dropped two in a row, but I’m still remembering the joy of that moment following Love’s three. No matter how well or poorly the Wolves end up faring in the future, I hope I never forget about the little happinesses.