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Monday January 24, 2011 11:37 PM

Rockets Tame Timberwolves

Houston's offensive fireworks enough to outlast Minnesota 129-125

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com

HOUSTON - The way the Rockets and Timberwolves were prolifically putting up points in the first half, it quickly became apparent that the first team to show even the slightest interest in defense was likely to emerge victorious. Layups, dunks, open 3s, you name it – all of the above were seen in abundance during the opening two quarters, with nary a defensive stand to be found.

So realizing the stakes, the Rockets rose to the challenge – sort of – exerting just energy on that end to propel them past Minnesota for a 129-125 win, Houston’s 13th consecutive victory over the T-Wolves.

The turning point of the game took place early in the third quarter, following a first half that saw Houston take a 65-63 lead into the locker room. But while the Rockets kept racking up the points to start the second half, it was their previously absent defense which triggered the decisive 17-2 run that ultimately proved to be the difference. During that stretch, Houston limited the Wolves to just 1-of-10 shooting from the floor while forcing three turnovers, transforming a tight game into an apparent blowout as the Rockets’ lead ballooned to 19 at one point.

What the Rockets failed to do, however, was deliver the knockout blow. Minnesota embarked upon a mini run of their own to end the frame, then fully returned to their sizzling ways in the fourth to ensure the Rockets were forced to work all the way up to the final buzzer to earn their hard fought win.

To be sure, Houston’s finishing kick left a great deal to be desired but for a team desperately seeking to pad its tally in the win column in order to stay in the Western Conference playoff picture, the final result brought with it a fair amount of solace.

“We made it interesting,” admitted a relieved Kevin Martin after the game. “That’s what we do as team. There is no easy win for us ever but we stayed with it, fought through our rough stretches and came out with a win.”

Martin was a huge part of Houston’s winning effort, leading all scorers with 34 points compiled via yet another typically uber-efficient 9-of-18 effort from the field. On a night when the temperature in Minneapolis was expected to dive into single-digits, Martin was red-hot right from the start, pouring in 16 first quarter points as the Rockets enjoyed a season-high 39-point opening period.

And while Martin’s offensive outburst could not be considered a surprise given his standing as one of the top scorers in the game, the same could not be said of the performance produced by one of his typically more defensive-minded teammates. Shane Battier, who came into the game averaging 8.6 points per contest, needed just nine minutes to top that number while exploding for 13 points in the first quarter alone. And though he went on to score just six more points the rest of the way, that was still enough to set his new season-high for scoring, and his 5-of-9 shooting display from downtown went a long way in helping the Rockets connect at a blistering 14-of-30 (46.7 percent) clip from beyond the arc for the game.

“Kevin and I have a good synergy,” said Battier. “He’s such an explosive scorer that I don’t receive a lot of attention. I’ve found ways to create for myself and keep defenses honest off of him. If I do that, I know he’ll have more room to operate.

“We knew we were playing well offensively but we just weren’t playing with much intensity on the defensive end. We knew if we could get a few stops and just play a few minutes of good basketball on the defensive end we could open the game up – that’s exactly what happened. We almost gave it back at the end but it was a good spurt in the third quarter. Story of our season – nothing’s been easy. But there’s no such thing as a bad win in the NBA so we’ll take it.”

QUOTES

RICK ADELMAN

It was a good win, but I didn't like the way we finished obviously. They made a lot of jumpers early in the shot clock coming back to cut the lead. But we made enough free throws to win. I thought the third quarter we defended a lot better than the first half, but we just kind of let them back in it in the fourth quarter.

On fourth quarter surge by Wolves:
We got a big lead and got casual with the ball. Instead of making them defend, we threw it away about two or three times. The threes they hit, I don't know what you do if a team just comes down and fires. In the third quarter, I thought Luis (Scola) defended Milicic better in the post; he was more active. We were so passive in the first half. We have to take more pride in guarding your own man. They (Wolves) were doing anything they wanted, we scored enough but we weren't doing anything at the other end.

On Brooks in fourth:
Aaron made a couple of shots. He's been struggling somewhat, so I thought I would let Aaron ride it. At that time, I thought we were going to finish. We had a nice lead and unfortunately it didn't work out that way. I was going to put Kyle (Lowry) back in, but I thought let's get Aaron some experience like last year and get him some confidence to finish the game.

KEVIN MARTIN

On getting in trouble in the fourth:
"We made it interesting. That’s what we do as team. There is no easy win for us ever but we stayed with it, fought through our rough stretches and came out with a win."

On free throws keeping you in the game:
"Yeah they did. We just wanted to attack them and they were fouling and we stayed aggressive with it. That’s one of the strengths on our team getting to the line and shooting the three ball."

On the last one twenty taking so long:
"I have never been apart of a minute and a half that long so hopefully we don’t make it interesting like that next time."

SHANE BATTIER

Kevin and I have a good synergy. He’s such an explosive scorer that I don’t receive a lot of attention. I’ve found ways to create for myself and keep defenses honest off of him. If I do that, I know he’ll have more room to operate.

We knew we were playing well offensively but we just weren’t playing with much intensity on the defensive end. We knew if we could get a few stops and just play a few minutes of good basketball on the defensive end we could open the game up – that’s exactly what happened. We almost gave it back at the end but it was a good spurt in the third quarter. Story of our season – nothing’s been easy. But there’s no such thing as a bad win in the NBA so we’ll take it.

Are you liking your shots more?
"With the trade deadline coming, I'm trying to increase my value to the team so they don't trade me. I've got a pregnant wife and my dogs like their doggy day care, so I don't feel like moving right now. Nah, that's a little trade deadline humor. I'm here all week, folks."

On his shot:
"Tonight we did a good job of spacing the floor and we knew we could attack them from three so I just ran to the three point line tonight. Once you make the first, you always feel better. I got some good looks and made five. I should have made more, but I'll take five."

KYLE LOWRY

"When the threes are going for us, I think we were pretty confident and we're a tough team to beat when shots start falling for us. Which is true for every team, but for us, when we get hot, I think we're a really dangerous team."

On the third quarter:
"No. We just felt like we needed to raise our level and we needed to step our game up. We needed to do some things that these guys weren't used to. Turn the pressure up, get out and play our game."

On the fourth quarter:
"They made some shots in the fourth. We slowed down. We didn't push the ball and the tempo that we should have. We didn't keep our place. When we play at our pace, we're a pretty good team. But when people control and dictate the tempo, it's kind of hard for us to get our offense flowing and get guys the ball where they need to get the ball."

Timberwolves Coach Kurt Rambis:

"Well, obviously we didn't do a good job in our defense tonight. We allowed them way to many scoring opportunities. We were trying to get that point across to our guys that they have to put that as a focal point of who they are as individuals and who we are as a ball club. We have to find ways to get stops to win games. I think it is clear that we can score, that we can get the job done at that end of the floor. It is taking care of the basketball, getting our defense secure and that is pretty much the story of the ball game. Early on we have up too many second chance opportunities for a team that shouldn't be getting that amount and we turned the ball over a lot in the first half and corrected that in the second half."

"We have to find a way to get stops. We can't allow a team to score that many points a quarter and expect to win ball games...It is in every area; guys scoring in the post, on penetration, kicking the ball out, and not running shooters off of their spot. These are all areas that we have to get better at."

On Kevin Martin:
"(Kevin) Martin got off to a great start and he didn't do a whole lot to hurt us after that. He got off to a great start. He is such a difficult player in this league to guard because of all the things that he can do. You see how many points he gets off of Free Throw situations and drawing contact. These are the type of players that we have to find a way to defend."

On Wesley Johnson:
"Everything about Wes (Johnson) is encouraging to me. He has learned an awful lot in his rookie season so far. I see an extremely versatile player that is going to be able at some point in time in my vision be able to fill up a stat sheet. He will have an impact on the defensive end, block shots, rebound, attack the basket, get to the free throw line, knock down 3pt shots and pull-up jumpers. I don't see a whole lot of limitations, even post-ups. We are working with him to expand his game in that area."

Timberwolves Forward Kevin Love

On the last minute of the game:
"We actually had our chance, so it wasn't like it was out of contention. We just wanted to do the best we could to fight back in this game. In the end, they just missed a few free throws here or there, but they made the last one and we missed the final shot, so it was tough."

On when they lost the game:
"It was early in the game. It wasn't anything we did. It was really the second and third quarter, we let them have big quarters. Even the first, too, that's where we lost it. The fourth quarter, I thought we played well. Especially down the stretch with cutting that lead down."

On the fourth quarter:
"Like I said, we got stops. We scored 125 points, so it's not our offense, it's our defense."

On Houston's offensive approach:
"It's tough. It seemed like everything they were throwing up was going in, and they were getting to the free throw line a tremendous amount. That's very tough to stop because you're doing such a good job of protecting the paint, and then they're hitting threes like that. It kind of takes a toll on you after awhile. Also, the free throws. We feel like we're playing good defense and then they end up at the free throw line a bunch, so that's also tough."

Timberwolves Guard/Forward Wes Johnson

"I think that's what we need to focus on a lot more, the defensive end. We can score the points, we just need to stop our opponents."

On the third quarter:
"They just got a little run and they kept going. We just couldn't stop them. It was defensive lapses that hurt us a lot. I just think we've got to sustain those and try to stay solid for the whole 48 minutes."

On Houston's ability to get quickly down the court:
"They were getting out. We knew before the game that they get a lot of leak outs and they shoot a lot of threes in transition, and I think that was hurting us a lot."

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