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Game Day: Rockets vs. Timberwolves

Analysis and observations from Houston's 112-101 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves

HOUSTON - Aaron Brooks partied like it was 2009. With James Harden sidelined for the second time this season with a sore foot, Houston’s diminutive third-string point guard stepped right into the void, rolled back the clock and shot the lights out while racking up a team-high 26 points to spark his club to a much-needed 112-101 win over Minnesota. For one night at least, the signature Brooks bounce was back in all its effervescent glory and the Timberwolves, like the Blazers and Lakers before them in the ’09 postseason, were at a loss for answers.

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Analysis and observations from what shall henceforth be known as “The Aaron Brooks Game:”

- Fun stat of the night: The Rockets came into tonight’s contest sporting an absolutely ridiculous first quarter offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) of 135.4 since Terrence Jones was inserted into the starting lineup.  For added perspective into just how absurd that number is, Miami leads the league with an offensive rating of 112.2. And Houston didn’t waste any time reigniting the opening period fireworks while racing out to an early 14-2 lead. The Rockets hit five of their first 10 shots from the field, and even the vast majority of those misses turned out a-ok since Houston managed to corral four of them for second chance scores. Jones, naturally, was at the center of the show, snatching three of those offensive boards and scoring seven quick points.

- Kevin Love full-court outlet passes that are directly followed by Chandler Parsons chasedown blocks equal immediate entry to hoops heaven. I could watch that sequence all night and never grow weary of it.

- Someone needed to step up from a scoring standpoint for Houston with James Harden sidelined, so the Rockets had to have been downright giddy to see Brooks unleash his ‘09 playoff performance remix. Brooks missed his first shot of the game, a 3-pointer, and then proceeded to knock down his next six field goal attempts – four of which came from beyond the arc. By the time the halftime horn sounded – which came accompanied by a Jeremy Lin 3, no less – Brooks had racked up 16 points, all of which came in the second period, in just 13 minutes of action. AB’s season-high coming into the evening: 13 points. Tonight’s performance, in fact, was just the second time all season Brooks had scored in double figures.

Brooks’ brilliance was the primary reason the Rockets took a 13-point lead into halftime – a somewhat surprising development given the fact Houston turned the ball over a whopping 14 times during the first two quarters of play (the Rockets finished the night with 23 turnovers - an unsightly blemish on what was an otherwise dominant performance). Brooks' final line: 26 points on 10-14 shooting, 6-of-7 from 3-point land and five assists, four rebounds and two steals thrown in for good measure. Yep, that’s a pretty good James Harden box score impersonation.

- Speaking of point guards who really had their mojo risin’ tonight, Patrick Beverley nearly matched Brooks’ 3-point prowess by knocking down 5-of-8 from beyond the arc as well. Beverley began the season downright icy from deep – almost certainly attributable, in part, to the injury he suffered on opening night – but the 25-year-old is scorching right now, having hit 13-of-23 from 3-point land over the course of the past four games.

- Dwight Howard’s rim protection and interior defense have been so consistently good this season it’s easy to take it for granted, but there’s no missing it when watching him go up against a talent like Nikola Pekovic. Howard pretty much singlehandedly made the T-Wolves’ burly big man a non-factor for most of the game tonight and, as he so often does, adversely affected a countless number of Minnesota shots near the basket.

- Have to take a moment to send a tip of the cap Kevin Love’s direction. He’s played like an MVP candidate to open the season and did absolutely nothing to detract from his early campaign credentials tonight. He missed a ton of shots he typically hits in the first half, and then promptly came out and dropped 15 points on the Rockets in the third quarter. Between his extraordinary outlet passing, rebounding skill and all-around offensive game, he’s definitely one of the league’s can’t miss players right now. What a talent.

- So here’s a good way to remove the foul taste left behind by the Rockets’ brutal fourth quarter Thursday night in Dallas: Houston started the final frame tonight by draining three consecutive triples, increasing their lead to 17 and giving them a healthy amount of breathing room to help ensure they would victoriously go wire-to-wire at home for the third consecutive time. One of those 3-point bombs came courtesy of Jeremy Lin, who very quietly scored 10 points in the period and finished the evening with a line of 19 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists – numbers that mesh pretty well with the stats he had produced in his previous five starts this season: 18.8 points, 6.4 assists and 3 rebounds per game on 50.9 percent shooting from the field and 48.1 percent shooting from beyond the arc in 35.

- So as you might have gathered by now, this turned out to be quite a night for Houston’s point guard trifecta. Together Lin, Brooks and Beverley combined to score 62 points while shooting 13-of-20 from beyond the arc – definitely deserving of a great googly moogly. That will definitely get the job done.

- Next up for Houston: The Marc Gasol-less Grizzlies Monday night in Memphis. See you then.

NOTES AND QUOTES

QUOTES

HOUSTON HEAD COACH KEVIN McHALE

(On team defense) “I thought our guys were better defensively. We had a real bad defensive outing against Dallas. We spent yesterday going over everything. We had a hard practice, and the guys carried it over, so it was good.”

(On defensive scheme tonight) “I think they (Timberwolves) had 37 points off our turnovers. I've said it since I've been here, because we had a lot of turnovers. There is no defense for turnovers at half court. There is no defense for a throwback at the 3 point line, it’s just a jail break. We played harder tonight. I told our guys, we have to play more efficiently and a little bit smarter. We've got to create more space for each other on the floor so we can attack.”

(On Aaron Brooks' play) “It's very difficult (for a player who hasn't played a lot to come in and light it up). He's been working hard though. He came in...his second quarter was special. He really had it going. He was making shots. When he sees the ball goes in...he's a scorer. Aaron did a great job tonight.”

(On the lineup without James Harden) “Our big focus tonight was simple plays. I guess evidently enough I didn't tell them enough. We had 24 turnovers. Let the ball do the work. Even when James is on the floor, you've got to let the ball do the work for you. We've got to cut and move, and space the floor and let the ball help us. Ball movement from side to side starts the defense and gets everything. That was our big point of emphasis tonight was trying to do that. As I said, if we would have cut our turnovers in half and had 12, we would've had 12 more possessions. We were pretty efficient offensively scoring the ball and giving them less opportunities to run out against unbalanced defense.”

(On James Harden's injury update) “He went and saw the doctor today and they were going to change up the treatment a little bit and we'll kind of see where it goes from there. It's been bothering him now for a few weeks. I think that's the plan as of right now (on James sitting out Monday). But again, we'll see what this new stuff does. It's all pain relevant.”

AARON BROOKS

(On if his play felt like old times) “No, not really. It felt like something new. It's been so long ago I had forgotten what it felt like. I thank God that I had the opportunity to go out there and play.”

(On the difference between not playing regular minutes and being out on the court) “I think the difference was that about two days prior you knew that James (Harden) wasn't going to play so mentally you're more prepared for what's about to happen. Besides that, we did a great job. We all played well, especially the point guards, we hit shots.”

(On ball movement and all the starters scoring in double figures) “When your All-Star goes out, it takes a collective group to get it done. That's what we did, everybody, Dwight (Howard) gave up a little bit of himself in scoring...passed it to others, we got the job done.”

DWIGHT HOWARD

(On the rebounding tonight) “We had to hit first. With Kevin Love and (Nikola) Pekovic, you have to hit those guys first. We did a good job hitting them first and pushing them under the basket. I think overall, we did a pretty good job of keeping those guys from having big rebounding nights.”

(On the Rockets causing problems defensively for Minnesota) “We tried to get up into them and force those guys to take tough shots. Kevin Martin is a terrific scorer. I think Jeremy (Lin) played excellent defense. I think the story of the night is our little MVP crazy legs (Aaron Brooks). He was amazing tonight. He did everything for us. I am happy for him. He got a chance to play tonight and he did a great job.”

CHANDLER PARSONS

(On the bounce back win after the tough loss in Dallas) “I thought we played real unselfish. We turned the ball over way to much, I think that's us being aggressive. They (Minnesota) are a very active team defensively. We just have to make the smarter play. Defensively, we were much better. The scouting report was great tonight. We knew Kevin Martin was going to start being Kevin Martin and making shots. We wanted to get back in transition and just limit what they do and I thought overall we played pretty well.”

(On the depth of the team being able to win without James Harden In the lineup) “We've got a great team. It's not just James (Harden), it's not just Dwight (Howard). Guys step up. Aaron Brooks was unbelievable tonight and any time someone goes down, it gives someone else the opportunity to step up. We have a lot of guys who can do that.”

PAT BEVERLEY

(On what the Rockets need to improve upon) “It's been good. We just need to learn to come up with the defensive rebound. We all play great together. Our biggest key right now is to finish out games and playing four quarters of basketball.”

(On team’s preparation and closing out games) “We played great offense and great defense for three quarters. We came in and we watched film. We got after it in practice. We had a great practice the next day. We are almost there. We still have a lot of improvement to do, but we're almost there to finish out games for all four quarters.”

MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES COACH RICK ADELMAN

(On the game) “They (Rockets) just shot the ball really well from the three and we just didn’t play well enough. From three’s, that’s where the game was, they made every three point shot they shot, it seemed. Give them credit. I thought they made a lot of mental mistakes to give them there shots. You can look at stats all you want, but we just didn’t have enough tonight. We could never get close enough and get any rhythm in the game. We missed a lot of shots and I don’t know if that’s mental fatigue or whatever. We just have to do a better job, the schedule doesn’t matter. We had a chance and we kept cutting it down to around 10, but we could never get over the hump. We have to be ready to go mentally and I don’t think that (schedule) should be an issue. I thought we looked kind of out of sync.”

(On Aaron Brooks’ play) “Well I coached him, so I’ve seen him do that a lot. It doesn’t surprise me.”

KEVIN MARTIN

(On if the team ran out of gas) “Yeah, I think so. They (Rockets) came out and knew we had played last night and they came out to try and wear us down.”

(On the Rockets not having James Harden in the lineup) “Aaron (Brooks) is a good player and I played with him for a year and that’s what he does. He puts points on the scoreboard. He hurt us with that and he is a big part of their win tonight.”

KEVIN LOVE

(On the game) “We thought we defended them (Rockets) well in close, but as far as them shooting 17-of-31 from the 3-point line, it’s tough to win. When you try to make runs and they kept hitting 3’s. We showed fight but in the end it’s really tough when the first three shots of the fourth quarter from three and they hit three in a row. That kind of made it tough for us to come back but we continued to fight and cut it to ten and then they kept hitting threes. It was tough.”

(On the turnover differential 24 to 10) “We shot very poorly in the first half and we felt like we fought back but they kept hitting shots. That’s what they need to do with James Harden out. You have to hand it to them, they played a good game.”

(On Aaron Brooks) “He had a huge second quarter and he just stayed hot really the rest of the game. You see that a lot when opportunity knocks and some guy goes down for a game and somebody steps up in their position and it happened to be Aaron brooks tonight.”

RICKY RUBIO

(On the game) “They (Rockets) were making shots that hurt us because they were moving the ball well and we were trying to get ourselves in the game on a back to back. They got a lot points in transition, too. They are a good team and without Harden, a lot of players stepped up. We were doing good things, but they were making a lot of shots from three. On defense, I felt we were doing a great job but they were moving the ball well and they had open looks and they made it. Aaron (Brooks) did a great job today. He stepped up and scored 26 and played a great game.”

NOTES

Houston registered another sellout crowd of 18,196, marking an eighth straight sellout at Toyota Center.

The Rockets nailed a season-high 17 3-pointers (.548, 17-31 3FG) to help propel them to a 112-101 win over the Timberwolves tonight. Overall, Houston was 41-of-79 (.519) from the field, while keeping Minnesota to 40-of-100 (.400) from the floor.

Houston gave up the ball a season-high 24 times tonight, giving way to 37 points off turnovers to Minnesota. The Timberwolves actually netted 21 points off 14 first-half Houston turnovers tonight. Minnesota also scored 20 points off 15 Rockets turnovers in the first half last season at Houston (3/15/13).

The Rockets outrebounded Minnesota by a 54-44 (+10) margin tonight, including a 36-18 (+18) edge in the first half. It marked Houston’s fifth 50-rebound game already this season.

Houston opened the game on a 14-2 run and never surrendered the lead tonight. Houston also began on an 18-1 run and never gave up the lead in a 109-85 triumph vs. Boston (11/19/13). The Rockets did not trail in 122-111 win vs. Denver (11/16/13). Overall, Houston has not trailed at Toyota Center since the 3:59 mark (-1, 87-88) of the first OT vs. Toronto (11/11/13).

The Rockets, who had a season-low two blocks at Dallas (11/20/13), recorded nine blocks tonight.

Houston has had all starters reach double-digit scoring in four of the last six games. In addition, all five Rockets starters tonight had at least three assists.

Aaron Brooks led Houston with a season-high 26 points (10-14 FG, 6-7 3FG), five assists, four boards and two steals tonight, which marked his most points since re-joining the Rockets last season. Overall, it stands as his best scoring output since a 28-point outing with the Rockets vs. Utah (4/7/10).

Jeremy Lin, who started tonight for James Harden (out with sore left foot), finished with 19 points (5-11 FG, 7-8 FT), five rebounds, five assists, two steals and one block.

Terrence Jones posted 18 points (7-10 FG), 10 rebounds and two blocks tonight. He is now averaging 15.0 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.67 blocks in his first six starts this season. Jones, who had just one double-double in his rookie campaign, already has three double-doubles on the season.

Dwight Howard recorded 11 points (5-9 FG), 13 rebounds, four assists and four blocks tonight, which marked his ninth double-double on the season.

Pat Beverley netted 17 points (5-7 FG) off a career-high five 3-pointers made (5-8 3FG). Beverley totaled a career-high 19 points (6-13 FG, 3-8 3FG, 4-4 FT) earlier this season vs. the L.A. Clippers (11/9/13).

Kevin Love, who was limited to just seven points (3-14 FG) last year against the Rockets at Minnesota (12/26/12), collected a game-high 27 points (11-22 FG) and 15 rebounds tonight.

Corey Brewer added 22 points (8-14 FG) and a game-high five steals tonight. Brewer recently had a season-high 27 points vs. Cleveland (11/13/13).

Ricky Rubio notched a game-high eight assists to go along with four steals. He and Corey Brewer helped the Timberwolves set the opponent season high in steals against the Rockets with 13 tonight.