HOUSTON, Feb. 21 (Ticker) -- Very few people celebrate their 25th birthday like Steve Francis.

Francis scored 16 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and handed out nine assists to lead the Houston Rockets to an 89-83 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The 6-3 Francis just missed his fifth career triple-double. He was forced to pick up the slack due to the absence of center Kelvin Cato, who did not play because of a left ankle sprain.

"I think the defense is what won it for us," Francis said. "We needed a game like this against a tough-caliber team like Minnesota."

NBA TV highlights from Timberwolves-Rockets: 56k | 300k

Eddie Griffin had an off night from the floor, but did collect nine boards and four blocks.
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Kevin Willis, who started for Cato, left midway through the second quarter because of back spasms.

Cuttino Mobley scored 26 points and Kenny Thomas also totaled 16 for the Rockets, who snapped a four-game losing streak to the Timberwolves.

"It felt good," Mobley said. "We just have to play like that on a consistent basis. I'm happy with our defense. We just played as a team."

Kevin Garnett scored 19 points and Chauncey Billups added 17 for Minnesota, which dropped one game behind the Los Angeles Lakers in fourth place in the Western Conference.

The Rockets bounced back from their worst loss of the season, a 115-76 decision at Milwaukee on Tuesday.

"They were more aggressive than we were tonight," Garnett said. "They got blasted by 39 (in their last game) and we should have known they would come out and be excited to play. They were more aggressive from the jump."

"We'll burn that tape of (Tuesday) night's game but we will come back and watch tonight's game when we want to be inspired," Houston coach Rudy Tomjanovich said.

The Rockets led, 57-53, with 5:38 left in the third quarter and scored 21 of the next 37 points, making it 80-67 with 5:47 to play in the game. Thomas scored eight of his 16 points in that span.

The Timberwolves answered with an 8-2 run over the next 2:30, cutting the deficit to 82-75.

"Coming back after a miserable, miserable game in Milwaukee, we played a team that is fighting for first place," Tomjanovich said. "I was really interested to see how they would respond and they responded in a big way."

Minnesota committed 16 turnovers, leading to 18 points for Houston. It fell 1 1/2 games behind first-place Dallas in the Midwest Division.

"Right from the beginning, they attacked us," said Timberwolves guard Wally Szczerbiak, who scored 13 points. "We had a tough time hitting each other with simple passes. It was frustrating because we can't play that way and win."

"When you've got two perennial All-Stars on their team like (Garnett and Szczerbiak), you've got to make them work hard," Francis said.