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Rockets advance to second round behind strong second half

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Houston wins the series 4-1.

NBA: Playoffs-Minnesota Timberwolves at Houston Rockets Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Despite a strong effort from the Wolves in the first half, the Rockets countered with an even stronger run in the second half to win Game 5 by a score of 122-104.

For the first time all series long, it looked like the whole Rockets team was clicking. All five starters scored in double figures, led by James Harden’s 24 points and 11 assists.

Just like in Game 4, Trevor Ariza got the offense going by scoring eight points in the opening quarter and a team-high 13 at halftime. He ended the game shooting 4-7 from three and knocking down 16 points. Ariza, Clint Capela and Gordon were the main three contributors in the first half.

Capela nearly had a double-double by halftime and finished with 24 points and 15 rebounds and Eric Gordon, who had his best game in the series tonight, finished with 19 points off the bench behind 3-7 from downtown.

Despite the Rockets’ solid play on the offensive side in the first half, their defense was not so stellar. This was large in part to the Wolves playing so well in the first half on offense. The team shot 55 percent from the floor and nobody had an off night. Jamal Crawford shot 8-10 and had 20 points off the bench. Karl-Anthony Towns had his best game of the series with 23 points and 14 boards.

Then, halftime came. And the switch turned on for Houston.

Harden began cooking and the defense got its rhythm back. Harden actually scored as much as the Wolves did in the entire third quarter, 15-15. In the third, the Rockets turned a four-point deficit into an 11-point lead. The second half Rockets looked like the Rockets we saw in the regular season. The team was clicking on offense, hot from three, and competitive on defense.

In terms of the overall series, Houston had its bumps, but after halftime from Monday’s Game 4, a new Rockets team emerged, and it looks like the Rockets that are on a mission to go after the Larry O’Brien trophy.

Throughout the series, the Wolves showed why they made the jump from lottery-bound to playoff-bound but ultimately, they were not on the Rockets’ level. I’m sure this is the first of many playoff series between the Wolves and Rockets for years to come. The Wolves will be back.

During the game, it looked like a second-round series was all but locked up with the Utah Jazz, who were leading by 25 points in the third quarter. But the Oklahoma City Thunder rallied on a 32-7 run to tie the game going into the fourth quarter and ultimately closed it out on a 107-99 win to extend the series to a Game 6 on Friday.

A Utah win will send the Jazz to Houston early next week for a second round series. An OKC win will send the series back to Loud City for a Game 7, something the Rockets won’t admit that they want, but I’m sure a couple of hard-nosed, physical games from the Rockets’ next opponent won’t be something that the Rockets would mind.

Now, the Rockets can rest, heal up and recharge for the rest of the postseason. And if this series was any indication of how the rest of the playoffs will go, it’s going to be a long postseason run.