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Playing in his first basketball game in nine months, Rubio demonstrated no rust or lingering problems with his surgically repaired left knee in sparking the Wolves to a 114-106 overtime victory against the Mavs.

A group of teenage girls walked into Target Center three hours before tipoff of the Timberwolves game Saturday. They stopped and looked at a mural of each player on a wall in the skyway.

"I've got to take his picture for my friend," one girl gushed as she pulled out her mobile phone.

She didn't even need to name the player. Everyone knew.

Wolves coach Rick Adelman smirked as an overflow media contingent encircled him for his pregame chat.

"What's the big deal?" he cracked.

Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle warned his team to prepare for an emotional response from the Wolves and their fans, describing the buzz inside the building as "juice." Everyone felt it, too.

Ricky Rubio was back. And it's like he never left.

Playing in his first basketball game in nine months, Rubio demonstrated no rust or lingering problems with his surgically repaired left knee in sparking the Wolves to a 114-106 overtime victory against the Mavs.

Rubio collected eight points, nine assists, four rebounds and three steals in only 18 minutes of action that trumpeted yet another successful return by a Twin Cities athlete post-ACL surgery.

Move over, Adrian Peterson. You have company.

"I love this game, I love playing basketball and I'm never going to forget how to play," Rubio said.

Target Center came alive with Rubio's breathtaking return. A standing ovation greeted him as he checked into the game with 1 minute 47 seconds left in the first quarter. Fans cheered again as he brought the ball up court the first time. And when he threw his first alley-oop pass. And shot his first free throw.

He was just warming up.

The arena erupted when Rubio threw a behind-the-back pass to Derrick Williams for a three-pointer. And again when he zipped a bounce pass between his own legs, past a defender and into Greg Stiemsma's hands under the basket for a layup.

Welcome back, Ricky.

"When he has the ball in his hands," Adelman joked, "I'm a much better coach."

The most amazing part of Rubio's performance is that he looked like the same old Rubio. And as usual, his impact extended well beyond his stat line. His presence breathed life into Target Center. The place was electric, the mood festive. That's the Rubio effect.

Kevin Love is the Wolves best player, but Rubio is their most important one -- and there's a difference in those two.
http://www.startribune.com/sports/wolves/183672231.html
 
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