It wasn’t quite the opening game performance we were all expecting from the home team, but James Harden put in an MVP performance to ensure that a cold-shooting night by the Houston Rockets wouldn’t come back to bite them, as they squeezed past the Minnesota Timberwolves 104-101.
The Rockets were supposed to run away with this series, especially in Game 1 at home, but they shot just 10-37 from beyond the arc on the evening, allowing Minnesota to stay in the game after an initial hot start by the Rockets. The teams battled back and forth all night long with multiple lead changes throughout. The Rockets went up double digits several times, but never could put the Wolves away.
The Beard had 14 points in the fourth quarter alone, including this big three-pointer to put the Rockets up 8 with just over four minutes to go.
The Beard gets to the bucket and drills the 3 in transition!— NBA (@NBA) April 16, 2018
Another 7 straight points for James Harden!@HoustonRockets up 94-88. #Rockets pic.twitter.com/p4K4w6yDnh
But the Rockets just couldn’t quite ice the game, and the Wolves battled to within 3 points thanks partially to a flubbed no call on this travel from Karl-Anthony Towns.
An unconventional fastbreak with the confusion after the missed free throw. pic.twitter.com/JL74Lv3gJS— RealGM (@RealGM) April 16, 2018
Following that disaster, Chris Paul, who was tentative overall, turned the ball over with just 8 seconds left to give the Wolves a chance to tie the game and head into overtime, but Jimmy Butler, who was mostly quiet offensively all night, missed a contested three and the Rockets escaped with a game one victory.
In addition to Harden’s 44 points, which came on 15-26 shooting from the field (and he hit 7 of Houston’s 10 total threes), he also dropped 8 dimes, most of which went to Clint Capela. The Swiss Roll dominated his matchup with Towns, going for 24 points, 12 rebounds, and 3 blocked shots. He finished 10-15 from the field, and the 20 points he scored in the first half not only kept an otherwise ice-cold Rockets team in the game, it was a new personal record for Capela for points scored in a half.
Also for the Rockets, Chris Paul scored 14 points and had 4 assists, but he also turned the ball over 6 times, shot just 5-14 from the field, 1-6 from deep and generally looked out of sorts and timid. Houston will need a better CP3 from here on out.
No other Rockets scored in double figures, as the poor shooting infected everyone on the squad outside of Harden and Capela. Eric Gordon was 3-10 for 7 points. Trevor Ariza was 1-6 for three points. P.J. Tucker was 1-5 for three points (though he did play some great defense). Gerald Green was 2-5 for 4 points.
As for Minnesota, they were led by Andrew Wiggins, who finished with 18 points, and they also received 16 off the bench from Derrick Rose in a spirited effort, and Jamal Crawford also pitched in 15 points from the second the unit. Jeff Teague went for 15 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists and at one point down the stretch was going tit-for-tat with The Beard, and Karl-Anthony Towns went for 8 points and 12 boards. He shot just 3-9 from the field, however, and was generally outplayed by Capela.
The Rockets are now off until Wednesday, which hopefully gives them some time to get back in the groove with their long-distance shooting. Perhaps Ryan Anderson will also be back, giving a boost to their three-ball and their spacing, because the Rockets will need to be better than they were tonight, especially offensively, to make any real noise in the playoffs.
That James Harden, though. The MVP did what MVPs do.