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Game Day: Rockets vs. Timberwolves

Analysis and observations from the Rockets' 129-106 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves

POST-GAME OBSERVATIONS

If opening halves that feature two complete disparate periods of basketball are your thing, then tonight’s first half had to have been right up your alley. Houston began the game playing as if it were enveloped in some sort of haze, turning the ball over time after time while allowing the Timberwolves to take pretty much whatever shot they desired every trip down the floor. Truth be told, the Rockets were fortunate to only be down six by the time the first quarter came to an end.

The opening 12 minutes produced plenty of eye-popping numbers (Seven Houston turnovers, 11 points for Pat Beverley, three blocks for Terrence Jones, and a ho-hum 14 points and four dimes for Kevin Love), but for pure shock value none could match the fact that rookie Gorgui Dieng very nearly extended his modest two-game double-double streak in the first quarter alone by tallying 9 points and 9 boards. Then again, even that stat line paled in comparison to his final totals of 22 points and 20 boards. Goodness gracious.

PHOTO GALLERY

- The second period actually began in similar fashion as Minnesota continued to pounce upon every available loose ball and turn them into easy points. So when one such play allowed Chase Budinger to convert a layup that put the Timberwolves up 10 with 9:49 remaining in the half, a positively fuming Kevin McHale called timeout and absolutely ripped into his troops, imploring them to match the energy and desperation Minnesota brought to tonight’s contest.

A 17-0 Rockets run later, it seemed rather clear that McHale’s message had hit its mark. James Harden, who languished through a first quarter that saw him record more turnovers (4) than points (3), began the blitz with back-to-back triples to ignite the Rockets’ rally. An ensuing T-Wolves’ turnover provided Omri Casspi with a clear path to the basket for a layup and seconds later Harden had another hoop to knot things up. All told, the Rockets required just 3:18 to transform their double-digit deficit into a 7-point lead. It was a remarkable and altogether rapid turnaround fueled by vastly improved focus and a feisty defense that generated stops and turnovers at the other end. By halftime, Houston owned a 10-point lead of its own and Harden had 20 points after scoring 17 in the period (while dishing out three assists and only committing one measly turnover as well).

- An addendum to that previous paragraph: now seems like the perfect time to offer a reminder from today’s preview that Minnesota scores at a rate that rivals Miami when Kevin Love is on the floor; without him, their offense is worse than Philadelphia’s league-worst attack. Yes, Houston’s 17-0 run occurred while Love sat on the bench grabbing a breather.  

- It should be said that the Rockets had no real problems scoring in the first quarter – it was just the plethora of turnovers during the period that continuously killed them. But once Houston got that problem under control, the points flowed freely and easily. Simply put: if Minnesota wasn’t creating turnovers on the defensive end, the Wolves weren’t getting stops tonight, period.

- James Harden wasn’t the only Houston player who put on a show in that second quarter. Donatas Motiejunas delivered a pretty stellar 10-minute stint himself while racking up 9 points and 3 boards during that stretch. D-Mo put his wide array of jump hooks to good use while causing fits with his ability to turn over either shoulder once he received the ball in the low post. The 23-year-old Lithuanian is a unique weapon for Houston given his burgeoning ability to put points on the board from either the low block or the perimeter. He was terrific while operating from the latter this evening, and his ability to do so more consistently – and for his teammates to more frequently take advantage of his singular skill set – would provide the Rockets with a big boost given that their bench has been known to struggle from a scoring standpoint from time to time. Motiejunas, by the way, finished with a career-high 20 points tonight. He was, in a word, tremendous.

- Speaking of Houston’s young power forwards, Terrence Jones put together one heck of a well-rounded third quarter as the Rockets continued to put distance between themselves and the Timberwolves. Jones stuffed the stat sheet with four points, three boards and three dimes in the period – all accrued during the second half’s opening five minutes, no less – delivering a pair of lovely no-look dishes to Omer Asik for dunks. Jones’ passing was indicative of the kind of unselfish ball movement on display from Houston tonight as the Rockets reached the fourth quarter with a 16-point bulge while recording assists on 29 of their 37 made field goals.

- Can’t complete this recap without a quick word regarding the remarkable talent that is Kevin Love. The man is, quite simply, a one-man wrecking crew. Fortunately for the Rockets, five trumps one pretty much every time. Love was extraordinary with the way he effortlessly transitioned from raining 3s to scoring out of the low-post, but that still wasn’t nearly enough to hold off a Houston team that featured seven players in double-digit scoring. This was the epitome of a total team effort (Houston dished out a season-high 36 assists) and it led to yet another Rockets romp, this time by a final score of 129-106. It speaks to how well nearly every Houston player performed tonight that we haven't yet even mentioned Chandler Parsons' 19-point, 9-rebound and 5-assist effort or Jeremy Lin's double-double that delivered 11 points and 10 dimes. 

- With the win, the Rockets move to 46-22 on the season. Up next: a Saturday night date with the beaten and battered Cleveland Cavaliers. 

QUOTES

HOUSTON ROCKETS COACH KEVIN McHALE

(On calling timeout two minutes into the second quarter) “We weren't playing very well. So, I got into them a little bit and they responded. We didn't have good ball movement. We didn't have good energy. We were kind of content to score twenty seven points in the first quarter. We seemed pretty content to give up thirty three. The guys really brought their energy after that. That group kind of got us going. Once we kind of hit our stride, moved the ball. We had a lot of ball movement. Jeremy (Lin) had ten assists, James (Harden) had eight, Chandler (Parsons) had five. The ball popped pretty good after that.”

(On going with a smaller lineup to boost energy) “I thought that Omri (Casspi) and D Mo (Donatas Motiejunas) also gave us good (energy). They got their hands on balls. They were just more active. The whole team just got more active. That's what we needed. We needed to get out there and get our activity level up. They played last night in an overtime game. We were able to keep their perimeter guys out the game for the most part. (Kevin) Love made some big three's in the third quarter. (Gorgui) Dieng was hurting us, but we were kind of leaving him open and trying to get back and trying to make (Ricky) Rubio shoot over extended hands around the rim. Once we got locked in, once our whole energy level got picked up, I thought we were really solid.”

(On taking advantage of Donatas Motiejunas in the low post when sealing his man and getting the ball in position to score) “A little bit of both. He's good down there. I think we can make it more of a priority to get him down there. A lot of times when he's playing with Dwight (Howard), he's spacing and trying to give Dwight the room down there. So is TJ (Terrence Jones). Their both really improving down there (in the post). I think they're both unique enough that they're going to able to guard small guys and go to the post on smaller guys. You will be able to put a lot of pressure on the other team. You can kind of play small while playing big with similar post presence. D-Mo and Terrence are both coming along.”

JAMES HARDEN

(On the ball movement in the third quarter, keeping the assists up and the turnovers down) “Yeah, it was mostly my fault as far as turning the ball over. I had about five turnovers in the first minute. We just tried to control the basketball, make the right plays, the easy plays and knock down some shots.”

(On what he told himself to stay on track) “I've got to focus. I have to focus. I've got to make the right plays and not do too much and that was the main key. Slow down, make the right play and that's what I started doing.”

(On everyone contributing in the absence of Dwight Howard) “When we move the basketball like that, everyone is going to score the basketball. We're moving it and everyone is making the extra pass and knocking down shots. It gives each and every guy confidence to make that right pass and to shoot the basketball. So, when we play like that, it's tough to beat us.”

CHANDLER PARSONS

(On the win) “It feels really good just to get back on the horse and see the ball go through the rim. It's huge. This is a big team win and every player is going to go through slumps. In a season of 82 games, you're going to have your ups and downs. You've just got to stay confident and know that your teammates believe you and your coaches believe in you. The guys did a great job of getting me involved tonight.” This was a huge win for us and everybody played well. We had a real balanced attack tonight.”

(On the Rockets playing shorthanded without Dwight Howard) “Every time a key player goes out, it gives an opportunity for someone else to step up and just looking at how D-Mo (Donatas Motiejunas) played tonight, he was 9-for-11 from the field, 20 points. He stepped up huge and I think people forget how good Omer Asik is. He is a bona fide starter in this league and obviously we want Dwight (Howard) back as soon as possible, but Omer is so good, you don't miss much out there on the floor. Defensively, he's so good. He rebounds the ball so well. So, we have a real luxury having both of those guys down there.”

DONATAS MOTIEJUNAS

(On the Rockets success offensively) “It was fun to play. Everyone was sharing the ball and I think that was the most important thing. We had a lot of assists, easy baskets, and I think that was the main key that got us the win.”

(On the importance of the second unit playing well) “If the second unit comes in and we are down, our goal is to bring us back. If we come in and it's a tie game, our goal is to make a lead. As the second unit, it's our goal to bring energy and to get an advantage on the court.”

JEREMY LIN

(On the Rockets season high of 36 assists tonight) “I think we moved the ball really well. I think there was one stretch at the beginning of the fourth where it got a little sticky. But aside from that, it was moving all night and guys were getting shots, layups, and threes.”

(On the Rockets playing at a fast pace) “We don't really want to get to far into the shot clock very often anyway. Tonight, a lot of open looks presented themselves. I think they (Timberwolves) were tired too from an overtime game. So we really just tried to play as fast as we could.”

(On the Rockets focusing on keeping Ricky Rubio out of the paint) “Not just him, but all of them. We wanted to try and make them shoot as many jumpers as possible. Kevin Love hit a lot of them, but besides that, I don't think they hit too many jumpers.”

MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES COACH RICK ADELMAN

(On the game) “In the first quarter we came out pretty good. And then they had that run on us (17-0) and it really wasn’t a game from that point on. We weren’t scoring at all and we weren’t getting back and they seemed to have their way, a lot of fast break points and threes. I had to give our starters some rest since we just played last night and it didn’t seem like we had the energy. It’s something we just have to keep dealing with, game after game, and hopefully guys will step up. Tonight Houston just beat us and we didn’t have enough.”

(On the Rockets second quarter pull away) “It happened so fast. (James) Harden hit a couple of threes and it just happened and you were hoping we would get a couple of baskets to turn the tide, but it just didn’t happen.”

(On Gorgui Dieng’s 20-20 [points and rebounds] performance) “You have to give him a lot of credit. He was in the right spot and really hit the offensive boards, eight offensive rebounds. He was rolling to the basket and he kept playing and I kept seeing things that kind of surprised more than anything and how good of conditioning he is in. Thirty seven minutes last night and thirty eight minutes tonight and he keeps playing and plugging along. You have to give him a lot of credit. It says a lot about him that he’s ready to play and he has the opportunity and he’s doing it. They were not going to leave Kevin tonight and he had a lot of opportunities and we found him. The more he plays, the more he gets used to different situations and what’s going on.”

KEVIN LOVE

(On the Rockets 17-to-zero run) “I’m sure in their game plan, they were saying we played back to back, they were at home and they just wanted to get up and down. That’s how they play without Dwight. That 17-0 run was tough and they never really looked back from there. It was definitely a tough one for us, but we go back home and have another game.”

(On Gorgui Dieng’s play) “’G’ played awesome. But, some of us just didn’t have it and that’s the way it goes sometimes. We came off an overtime game and we just didn’t seem to have energy. These are the dog days where your trying to give everything you’ve got and sometimes it’s just not good enough and tonight it wasn’t.”

RICKY RUBIO

(On the team’s energy) “The Rockets play aggressive, with energy and we ran out of gas. They were making three’s and that hurt us. A lot of us were trying to fight, but we just couldn’t find energy anywhere. Everybody has to be ready and a lot of players are doing it, but we have to keep playing aggressive. After a tough one last night, we ran out of gas. We were trying to play aggressive, but Houston is playing great basketball right now. They run a lot, they run up and down and they were pressing the ball, too, so it was very hard.”

CHASE BUDINGER

(On coming back to play his first game in Houston) “It was a little emotional coming in. Seeing all the people that worked on the staff that are still here from when I was playing. It was just good to see everyone. Player wise, I think only Chandler is the only one over there I played with. That part was a little different, but as far as everyone on staff, it was good to see them. I missed those guys. They were really good guys.”

(On the Rockets) “They moved the ball really well, share the ball and they know how to attack. Offensively, they’re one of the toughest to beat in the NBA. They’re definitely going to be tough in the playoffs. As far as their shooting ability and how they take it to the rim, they’re going to be tough to stop.”

GORGUI DIENG

(On his play) “I was just ready to play. I don’t care if you’re up or down, as long as I am on the court. I’m just playing for my teammates and trying to do my job. We lost tonight, but I just think I gave everything I had when I was on the floor. I always say stats don’t mean anything. Personal stats I don’t care anything about. I’m more like a team guy and I want to get the win. So far, you can say yes, this was my best game. That’s the best I’ve played so far."

NOTES

Houston registered another sold out crowd of 18,315 tonight. Overall, it gives the Rockets 32 sellouts on the season, extending the new single-season record for Toyota Center (prev. best: 28 sellouts in 2007-08).

The Rockets racked up a 129-106 (+23) win over the Timberwolves tonight, matching the most points ever scored by Houston in the history of this series (129 on 1/24/11). Houston, which defeated Utah by 124-86 in the last game, took consecutive wins by at least 23 points for the first time since Dec. 2013: 121-96 (+25) vs. Memphis (12/22/12) and 120-97 (+23) at Chicago (12/25/12).

Houston ran its current home winning streak to a season-best 10 in a row (1/28/14-3/20/14). The Rockets have now record nine double-digit home winning streaks in team history.

The Rockets followed a 31-assist game vs. Utah (3/17/14) with a season-high 36 dimes tonight. It marks the first time Houston has dished out 30 or more assists in two consecutive games since 2006-07: 31 vs. Philadelphia (1/29/07) and 30 vs. Seattle (1/31/07).

Houston hit a season-best .582 (46-79 FG, 13-25 3FG) from the field vs. Utah (3/17/14) and followed up by going .576 (49-85 FG, 16-38 3FG) from the floor tonight. It marks the first time since Feb. 1993 that the Rockets have hit at least .576 from the field in two straight games.

The Rockets are now 55-of-127 (.433) from 3-point range over the last four meetings with the Timberwolves (3/15/13-3/20/14).

Houston had seven first-quarter turnovers, but just three giveaways in the second quarter. First-half giveaways have haunted the Rockets in the last three meetings with Minnesota: 20 points off 15 first-half turnovers on 3/15/13, 21 points off 14 first-half giveaways on 11/23/13 and 14 points off 10 first-half turnovers on 2/10/14.

All five Rockets starters have reached double-figure scoring in each of the last two meetings with the Timberwolves (2/10/14 and 3/20/14). Houston is 15-2 this season when all five starters net 10-plus points.

James Harden, who was out (sore left foot) last home game vs. Minnesota (11/23/13), finished with 28 points (9-16 FG, 6-10 3FG, 4-4 FT), eight assists and five rebounds tonight.

Pat Beverley had 14 points (5-10 FG, 4-7 3FG) tonight. Beverley has now reached double-figure scoring in three consecutive games, matching the longest such streak of his career (2/8/14-2/19/14).

Donatas Motiejunas posted a career-high 20 points (9-11 FG) and six rebounds tonight, surpassing a 19-point effort vs. Phoenix (3/13/13).

Jeremy Lin came off the bench with 11 points (4-7 FG) and a game-high 10 assists tonight, marking his third double-double of the season.

Kevin Love topped the Wolves with 29 points (10-19 FG, 5-9 3FG, 4-4 FT) tonight, which was his 50th 20-point game of the season.

Gorgui Dieng had a career night with 22 points (6-16 FG, 10-11 FT) and 21 rebounds to mark his third consecutive double-double. Dieng becomes just the sixth player since the NBA began tracking starts in 1970 to post a 20-20 game within his first three career starts, joining Dave Cowens (1970), Larry Smith (1980), Terry Cummings (1982), Roy Tarpley (1988) and Enes Kanter (2013).