MINNEAPOLIS — With point guard Ricky Rubio back in the fold, the Minnesota Timberwolves look like a different team.
Rubio, in his second game back from an ankle injury that cost him nearly three months, played his first game at home since Nov. 1, kick-starting Minnesota’s offense in a 102-101 win over the Miami Heat on Wednesday at Target Center.
Minnesota, which led the entire first half, overcame a 10-point deficit with under 10 minutes to play.
Miami (21-28) had two chances to pull out the win in the final seconds, but guard Mario Chalmers missed on a drive to the net and guard Norris Cole came up short on a 25-foot shot at the final horn.
Kevin Martin led all scorers with 30 points, including the eventual game-winning shot in the final minute. He also had 13 points in a disastrous third quarter for the Timberwolves, who allowed Miami to open up a seven-point lead after having trailed the entire game to that point.
But after the game, even Martin was talking about Rubio’s ability to steer Minnesota’s offense in the right direction.
“It changes our whole team complex,” Martin said of having Rubio back. “He’s a player that makes everybody around him a better player, on both ends of the court. Having him back in our lineup, you can’t put it into words.”
It was Rubio who kept Minnesota moving, especially in the early going, dishing out five assists in the game’s first five minutes. He finished with nine assists, eight points and two steals.
“Coming to the game tonight, I was just excited to watch Ricky play,” Wolves coach Flip Saunders said. “Once every game, the guys say ‘How did he do that?'”
Minnesota (9-40) overcame a monster night by Miami center Hassan Whiteside, who had 24 points and 20 rebounds, becoming the first Heat player to reach the 20-20 plateau since Shaquille O’Neal did it in 2004. Whiteside started the game 11 of 11 from the floor, becoming the first player in the NBA to do so this season.
“I came in and competed as hard as I could to try and put us in position to win the game,” Whiteside said. “It looks good, but when we lose it really doesn’t mean anything.”
Whiteside became just the fifth player in NBA history to shoot at least 90 percent from the floor, score 20 points and grab 20 rebounds in one game (Dikembe Mutombo, Charles Barkley, Wilt Chamberlain and Dwight Howard).
The Timberwolves led by three after one quarter and by two at the half before Whiteside took over in the third quarter, scoring 12 points to give Miami its first lead of the night.
“It looked like we were starting to take control in the third quarter,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “At the beginning of the fourth quarter, our execution was so poor. We steadied it for a little bit but our execution in the fourth left a whole lot to be desired.”
Cole’s 3-pointer from the corner pushed Miami’s lead to double digits with 9:47 to play, but Minnesota scored the next nine points, going on a 12-2 run to tie the score on a 3 by Martin with 6 1/2 left.
“We became more aggressive on defense,” Martin said. “We started getting out and running after stops. We started rebounding the ball after the third quarter. That changed the complexion of the game.”
Forward Chris Bosh made a 19-footer with 50 seconds to play, giving Miami a 101-100 lead before Martin came through again, knocking down a runner in the lane with 40 seconds remaining.
“Obviously, we didn’t get stops when we needed to,” Cole said. “We have to execute on the offensive end and do a better job of controlling tempo when we have leads.”
The Timberwolves had five players finish in double figures. Forward Thaddeus Young had 16 points and guard Mo Williams finished with 10 points and 10 assists off the bench. Top overall pick Andrew Wiggins finished with six points and five rebounds.
Forward Luol Deng chipped in with 18 points and four rebounds and Cole finished with 15 points in a reserve role for Miami.
NOTES: Heat G Dwyane Wade missed his fourth consecutive game with a hamstring injury. Heat F Shawne Williams did not play because of a hip injury. Heat F Josh McRoberts was also inactive. … Timberwolves rookie F Andrew Wiggins was named the Western Conference Player of the Month for January. It was the third time this season that Wiggins has won the award. … Timberwolves G Zach LaVine returned to the lineup after missing two games with an ankle injury. … The Heat wrap up a four-game road trip Friday against defending NBA champion San Antonio. The Timberwolves also return to action Friday at home against the Memphis Grizzlies.
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