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Game Day: Rockets at Timberwolves

Analysis and observations from the Rockets' 112-110 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves

POST-GAME OBSERVATIONS

For those who thought this game would lack for drama and intrigue the moment it was announced that Kevin Love would not play due to a hyper-extended elbow (raises hand), the Rockets and Wolves wasted little time revealing the folly within that line of thinking. Ricky Rubio started the showdown vacillating between mesmerizing and destructive (for both teams). Chandler Parsons shook off his shooting slump in a big way. James Harden was on triple-double watch early. Corey Brewer had an out-of-body experience. And that was just the first half (though, as you'll see, those storylines largely held for the duration of the evening).

Not exactly known for their scoring prowess without Love on the floor (Minnesota’s offensive rating with him is 108.7; without it's 97.3), the Timberwolves took their turn as the latest team to torch Houston’s transition defense while racking up 39 points in the first quarter. Rubio went wherever he wanted on offense, wreaking havoc with both his penetration and ability to trigger the T-Wolves’ fast break attack. And not exactly helping matters for Houston was the fact that Omer Asik picked up two early fouls, shining the white hot spotlight on Houston’s lack of frontcourt depth while Dwight Howard remains sidelined with an ankle injury. By the latter stages of the first quarter, Minnesota had raced out to a 33-18 lead, Rubio had seven points and five assists, and the Timberwolves had already recorded 15 fast break points.

PHOTO GALLERY

Apparently removing two of the league's top defenders at their respective positions has an adverse affect on a team's defense. Who knew?

The primary beneficiary of Minnesota’s transition scoring spree was none other than leak-out king Corey Brewer, who enjoyed a first half ripped straight from his wildest hoop dreams. The University of Florida product needed little more than nine minutes to pile up 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting from the field, and his ridiculous roll continued straight through the second quarter as well, as he punctuated the period by banking in a half-court shot to beat the buzzer. By the break, Brewer had 26 points on 11-of-15 shooting and was just three points shy of matching his career high.

But Brewer wasn’t the only Gator going bananas tonight. Parsons joined the party in the second quarter, hitting all five of his shots – three of which came from downtown – en route to recording 13 points in the period and 18 overall by halftime. In fact, Parsons’ hot hand typified Houston’s dead-eye delivery from beyond the arc as the Rockets went 8-of-14 from deep during the opening two periods of play, continuing their tradition of burning the Wolves from beyond the arc this season. Those eight 3s gave Houston 52 for the season versus Minnesota – just five away from matching the franchise record for made 3s against a single team in a season. The league record, by the way, is 59 (set by the Knicks last year against the Heat). Both marks were in play heading to the second half, though Houston ultimately fell short as the club could only hit three more the rest of the way.

As is so often the case, that scorching shooting helped to cover up a lot of the club's ills. Despite Brewer’s scoring bonanza, Asik playing just five first half minutes due to foul trouble, an early 15-point deficit and Minnesota's fast break barrage (the Wolves tallied 24 fast break points in the first half alone) that was fueled by a plague of Houston turnovers, the Rockets still managed to begin the third period with a 63-59 lead. Sometimes this game makes no sense. Then again, given the rest of the Timberwolves’ utterly confounding season, tonight’s first half fit perfectly within the scope of that narrative.

- The less said about the third quarter the better. The best way to sum up what took place during those 12 minutes: If you enjoy bricks, turnovers and air balls, then the third period was nothing short of a basketball Mona Lisa. If you don’t, however … well, that description isn’t fit for a family friendly site such as this.

Houston began the quarter by turning the ball over seven times in the opening six minutes. Minnesota, meanwhile, struggled mightily to score whenever the Rockets decided they were no longer interested in handing them free points via those aforementioned miscues. In fact, for a considerable stretch anything besides a layup seemed far beyond the Timberwolves’ range as their spacing-deprived attack threw up a countless number of midrange shots that barely grazed the rim. One memorable moment even saw Luc Mbah a Moute launch an elbow jumper that missed the hoop entirely. Yes, it was that kind of quarter. Imagine, then, the surprise when Harden hit a hanging 28-footer to beat the third period buzzer, putting Houston in front once more by a score of 84-82.

- A game like this deserved a bizarre ending, and given that the contest gave birth to ‘MVP’ chants for Corey Brewer in the final frame, it's safe to say it more than delivered the goods. Brewer’s once-in-a-lifetime night rolled right along as did his point total, with the fans imploring him to shoot every time he touched the ball (spoiler alert: he frequently acquiesced). Brewer matched the franchise record for points scored in a single game by finishing with an unfathomable 51 points, and then put a cherry on top by dishing his one and only assist of the game to Gorgui Dieng for a last-minute long 2 that momentarily seemed to put the nail in the Rockets’ coffin.

But appropriately enough, the game wasn’t anywhere even close to over, even at that late juncture. James Harden, who has been nothing short of larcenous in late-game situations this season, helped Houston storm back before knocking down his latest clutch 3 to tie the contest with 17 seconds left. Harden’s final line: 33 points, 10 assists, 8 rebounds, six steals and five turnovers. And for a few fleeting seconds, it seemed as if he had yet again put Houston in position to steal a game it had no business winning. 

But Harden and Brewer weren’t the only ones with gaudy numbers. Dieng quitely delivered the goods as well, recording his second straight 20-rebound game against Houston. And he saved the best for last, coaxing in a short shot with less than five seconds left to ensure Minnesota prevailed in stunning fashion, as the Timberwolves held on for a 112-110 victory.

The Rockets simply couldn't overcome their 22 turnovers (which Minnesota gleefully turned into 28 points), or their leaky transition defense that allowed a season-high 39 fast break points. Yes, the Rockets are road weary and shorthanded, but that excuse falls awfully flat given the Timberwolves’ injury situation and the fact Houston has so very much to play for. 

- With the loss, the Rockets are now 52-27 and their magic number to clinch home-court in the first round remains stuck at two with three games remaining. Up next: a Saturday night date with the New Orleans Pelicans, yet another team that has been riddled with injuries. 

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

Turnovers, 22. Offensive rebounds, 18 for them. Loose balls, 50-50 balls, we didn’t come up with anything.

They got every 50-50 ball and every time there was a chance to make a toughness play we didn’t make it.

(on Brewer)

He just got out and ran. He outhustled us up and down the floor. He got loose ball, fought hard, got things going to the basket, got to the line. He had 51 points and it’s been four or five games where we have not competed hard enough. I don’t know what to do. We tried different lineups, we tried different stuff, but guys have got to go out there and compete harder. We missed 50-50 balls and I don’t know how many shots we missed at the rim again tonight.

JEREMY LIN

Transition defense, turnovers, I had a lot myself. Our team just didn’t take care of the ball. If we had better transition defense it would have been a whole new ballgame, but that’s kind of been one of our Achilles heels the whole season.

We didn’t come out ready to play. When you do that, you’re playing with fire.

(on his health)

Yeah, I’m ok. I think we’re all going through some stuff right now. But at this point there’s no excuses. We need two wins in the next three games.

(worried about finding the groove again?)

No, I think this team’s a resilient group. We didn’t really show the toughness that we wanted to show tonight but throughout the whole season we’ve always been a resilient group that has bounced back so I don’t doubt that we’ll continue to do that.

(on Brewer)

He got in a zone and we didn’t do enough to slow him down. He had one heck of a game.

JAMES HARDEN

(on Brewer)

You know in this league if you give anybody confidence early in the game like that, anything is possible and we saw it tonight. He got his career high and most of it was in transition. He started hitting some crazy shots, half-court buzzer beaters, it felt like everything goes in once you get that confidence at the beginning of the game. That’s what happened.

(concerned about being able to crank up the urgency again?)

We have to. We have no choice now. We have three games to go and we’re trying to lock-in home-court advantage. We keep letting games slip away.

(worried about D or something that Beverley and Dwight can go a long way in fixing?)

We’ve got our anchors out; our defensive point guard and defensive big. That’s still not an excuse for us allowing so many points. We’ve got to be more focused from the beginning of the game. If we do that, we’ll be in good hands. But we keep letting guys get confidence and it’s tough to shut that water off.

CHANDLER PARSONS

(on how he’s feeling)

I’m pretty sore. Just took x-rays on my (right) wrist. I just landed really hard. I have a big bruise on my right elbow and my wrist is really sore. Hopefully they come out negative but I haven’t felt that way in awhile.

(same issues tonight?)

It’s embarrassing. We’re playing like we’re happy just to be in the playoffs and home-court just means nothing to us. We’re giving away games to teams we have no business losing to. It’s embarrassing.

We just have to get better. First of all we have to win tomorrow. We can’t let this game affect us. We have to go and get that one. We still control our own destiny. We’ll get swept if we keep playing like this in the playoffs.