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One entered the season with the weight of years of hype and anticipation of his arrival. The other could have walked down the street and gone unnoticed as recently as two weeks ago.
Saturday night, point guards Ricky Rubio and Jeremy Lin went head-to-head for the first time, with Lin making one more play than his counterpart down the stretch to help the Knicks earn a hard-fought 100-98 win over the Timberwolves and stretch their winning streak to five games.
"He's good," said Rubio, who finished with 12 points, eight assists and three steals for Minnesota. "[In] the first half he scored amazing baskets, and he's doing a great job. Even with everybody talking about him, he avoids the pressure. Doing it one or two times is good, but doing it four or five times in a row already is amazing."
Lin did not play at the same level as his previous four star-making appearances, finishing with 20 points, six rebounds and eight assists, but shooting 8-for-24 from the field -- including 1-for-12 in the second half -- and committing six turnovers. But Lin managed to make one of two free throws with 4.9 seconds left to give the Knicks the lead for good.
"[Rubio] gave me a really hard time," Lin said. "He did a great job defensively, and forced me into a lot of bad turnovers and shots."
Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman said he had a specific defensive gameplan for containing Lin.
"We were just trying to keep him from getting to the basket, trying to get him to go to his left," Adelman said. "Every time we kept him going to his left, he wasn't quite as effective.The play at the end, for instance, where he got fouled, we let him get to his right hand, rather than keeping him on the left side of the court."
Rubio, on the other hand, did not have a single turnover in the game's first 47 minutes before giving it away twice inside of the final 30 seconds. After Steve Novak's 3-pointer with 36.2 seconds remaining tied the game at 98, Rubio lost the ball as he drove to the basket.
Then, after Lin had put the Knicks ahead, Rubio inbounded the ball to Kevin Love, who then gave it back to Rubio. But Rubio dribbled the ball off himself and it careened out of bounds, giving possession back to the Knicks with 1.7 seconds remaining.
"They played good defense, but I made some huge mistakes," Rubio said. "I have to learn from that. I have to learn to take care of the ball."
Rubio also can relate to the Lin's passionate fan base, after becoming an international sensation as a teenager in his native Spain, including playing on his country's silver medal-winning team at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing as a 17-year-old.
"The world is changing," he said. "It's not only America, it's not only Europe, it's the world. It's growing, and everybody is following the NBA and they have players who are from their cities."