Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 3/13/12
That needed to happen. It was closer than they might have liked, but the result was all that mattered when the Timberwolves began their seven-game road trip with a 127-124 win over Phoenix. It was the Timberwolves' highest-scoring game of the season, but even that didn't guarantee the win in a back-and-forth game. The Suns came out to 34-28 lead after the game's first quarter, and they looked poised to take control in the early minutes of the game. Kevin Love went 3-9 from the field in the game's first half, but eventually the team found its rhythm and, more important, its energy. "Tonight, I think the biggest thing was energy," Nikola Pekovic said. "That was something we were missing the last night against New Orleans." That energy was an outgrowth of the team's renewed morale after Ricky Rubio's season-ending ACL injury on Friday night against the Lakers, and it took the team five quarters after the injury to regroup. There's still no way to say how much the Timberwolves can achieve without Rubio, and three quarters of good basketball against a sub-.500 team aren't exactly a convincing statement. Still, though, this win mattered. It set the tone for the road trip, for the team to move on from the post-injury haze."We had a few disappointments the last few days, but our guys came out and played hard. Both teams were shooting the heck out of the ball."Love's emergence from his first-half slump was crucial for the Timberwolves on Monday, when he went 8-14 from the field and scored 23 of his 30 points in the game's second half. In six games in March, Love is averaging 32.8 points and 13.8 rebounds, and against Phoenix his performance was enough to jostle the team out of its early offensive struggles. Rubio's absence is less about scoring stats he's averaged 10.6 points this season than about his selfless, team-centric offense, his more than eight assists per game. Those assists and his passing are enough to completely alter an offense, but the Timberwolves managed to delegate minutes and unite to put up the most points they've scored in 2011-12.The scoring didn't come from Martell Webster, who entered the starting lineup in Rubio's place and scored just two points. Instead, it came from the bench, from Wayne Ellington, Derrick Williams and Michael Beasley. Ellington and Beasley scored 15 points, and Williams finished with 19.Most impressive, though, might have been the team's ability to come back from behind. Although it's what the Timberwolves have been known for all season, that ability to bounce back from not only a poor first quarter, but also two losses and a devastating injury, was an especially impressive feat both mentally and physically."For us to seal this victory down the stretch is big for us," Love said.Perhaps the most striking thing about Monday night's game was that the Timberwolves finished with 30 assists without Rubio in the lineup, more than they had in each of the final two games before Rubio's injury (19 against the Lakers and 23 against Portland). So though it will be impossible for the team to replace the rookie point guard, Monday's game proved that a combination of players and approaches might be able to make up for his absence."We shot the ball," Adelman said. "We have to have people shoot the ball. The other thing we did is we really moved it They came out to double-team Kevin. They were trying to change things up, and our guys moved the ball. If they play together and make the right play, we'll be okay."In the end, this won't be the biggest win of the Timberwolves season. But it set a precedent not only for the upcoming road trip, but also for what this team can do without Rubio. Replacing him won't always be this simple, but the Timberwolves can still win without their point guard.Follow Joan Niesen on Twitter.
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