The Houston Rockets rode James Harden to a narrow victory tonight in Minnesota in a back and forth affair, bringing the Rockets' win streak to five.
After only playing five minutes in the third quarter, James Harden checked into the game in the fourth and pushed the Rockets to their fifth straight win of the season and a 16-12 record. Rick Adelman's team held Harden to a paltry four free throws through the first three quarters but with the game on the line Harden hammered his way to the rack, whistle or otherwise, and added 17 of his 30 total points in the narrow victory. The Timberwolves found unlikely contributors during the first three quarters of the game in Jose Juan Barea (18 points, 7 rebounds), Alexey Shved (16 points), and Derrick Williams (9 points, 2-3 from deep), but Kevin Love missed all seven of his shots from deep and Nikola Pekovic spent the majority of the game in the locker room.
Rick Adelman found a combination that worked in the second quarter with Alexey Shved, Kevin Love, and the pick and roll. Backdoor cuts, a staple of Adelman's motion offense, were a problem for the Rockets who had some trouble guarding the Wolves on the baseline. In his last four games against the Rockets, Kevin Love has averaged more than thirty points; however, Love provided little more than some good defensive rebounding tonight.
The Rockets were dog tired after a wild blowout win in Chicago, and in the first three quarters of the game, the Wolves easily outran the league's highest pace team. There were problems all over the court from turnovers to help defense; the Rockets looked miserably uncoordinated. Houston's Lin/Harden backcourt that had been playing unselfishly and with astounding aggression was nonexistent for most of the night.
With the game fairly close at the half, the Wolves started the third quarter with a nearly fatal 19-6 run. It was Omer Asik (9 points, 17 rebounds) whose activity on the boards and low hanging dunks late in the game brought the lead back down to a winnable margin. Carlos Delfino has been a bit shaky as a decision maker late in the game but was an excellent secondary ball handler tonight and hit a couple of contested three pointers that should never have gone in.
I'll cut the chase here since a lengthier description of tonight's events was obliterated (did you know command + Q quits out of your browser in Chrome?); James Harden is the best. Harden's 30 point performance tonight was his sixth consecutive 25 point game, making him the first player to do that in a Rockets uniform since a prime Tracy McGrady in 2007. Harden looked fine in the first half of the game and after a long rest in the third he took the floor and punished the Wolves. Harden pummeled his way through serious traffic, grabbed rebounds, and hustled his arse off. Kevin McHale commented that Harden, "just mauls the ball through your armpit and finds a way to finish." I won't try to top that description.
I think that even a week ago the run in the third quarter would have been a crippling deficit for this young and inconstant group. The Rockets have a long road ahead of them but the future is bright. Tune in on Friday to see if the Rockets can stretch the winning streak to six in San Antonio.
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