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Wednesday February 9, 2011 0:43 AM

T-Wolves Prove Too Tough

Minnesota's hot shooting sends Rockets to 112-108 defeat

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com

HOUSTON - Sometimes you simply have to give credit to the other team.

No question, most won’t want to hear such talk after watching the Rockets drop a disappointing 112-108 decision at the hands of the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves. They’ll look at the T-Wolves’ 13-39 record and remark that somehow, someway, the Rockets had to find a way to emerge victorious on their home floor against such a struggling opponent, especially one playing without starters Michael Beasley, Darko Milicic and Luke Ridnour.

To be sure, there’s no getting around the fact it was a particularly painful defeat. The Rockets returned to Houston hot on the heels of an uplifting win at Denver which had stretched their winning streak to three games just as they were preparing to begin a four-game home stand, the club’s longest of the season to date. Optimism was on the rise after surviving a beastly January schedule with the squad’s playoff hopes still intact. And a home date with the Timberwolves – a team Houston had beaten 13 straight times – appeared to be a surefire way to keep the positive momentum going.

Only problem was, Minnesota decided to eschew the role of sacrificial lambs and instead play like, well… wolves, while the Rockets played like a team which had flown into town in the wee hours the morning of the game – which, of course, is exactly what Houston did after waiting out a blizzard in Denver the night before.

With the T-Wolves point guard tandem of Jonny Flynn and Sebastian Telfair leading the way in the early going, Minnesota – one of the poorer shooting teams in the NBA – started out shooting the ball with uncanny accuracy and never once relented. Telfair, a career 39.3 percent shooter, hit 6 of his 9 shots on the night, several of which were of the long two variety. And Bassy wasn’t the only one; Minnesota’s entire team seemed to take and make a bevy of difficult shots throughout the contest. All told, the Timberwolves shot 51.1 percent from the field, nearly seven percentage points higher than their regular season average.

None of this is to excuse the Rockets of their responsibility for this loss. Houston has struggled mightily this season in its effort to establish dominance on its home court and it’s tough to win any game when getting outrebounded by a 51-31 margin, as the Rockets were Tuesday night. But when you routinely force your opponent to take 20-footers and 3-pointers off the dribble and they knock them down repeatedly, there comes a time when you simply have to tip your hat and acknowledge a job well done.

“You have to give Minnesota credit,” said Rockets Head Coach Rick Adelman after the game. “They shot the heck out of the ball and a lot of guys contributed. They made big shots when they had to. We just didn’t make enough plays to win.”

The shame of it all is that several Rockets players produced strong performances as well. Courtney Lee was simply superb off the bench, scoring a season-high 23 points while giving his club a much-needed lift on the second leg of a back to back. Chuck Hayes tied a career-high with 5 steals, while adding 10 points and 13 rebounds as well. And Luis Scola actually set a career-high by recording 7 assists. Because of their efforts, Houston managed to hang around until the final seconds. But down the stretch, Minnesota’s Kevin Love (20 points, 14 rebounds) and Wayne Ellington (career-high 18 points) had all the answers and hit all the big shots, allowing the Timberwolves to secure the team’s first two-game road winning streak in nearly two years.

“I don’t care what a team’s record is, these guys are all really good players when they get it going,” said Adelman. “You look at the different guys who made shots for them: Ellington off the bench, and of course Love. They played a good game and I don’t take anything away from them. They hurt us on the boards again, got 15 offensive rebounds, but it was just one of those nights where our guys tried but we just didn’t have enough.

“Sometimes you just say of the other team: they played better.”

And 1s: Prior to Tuesday night’s contest, Rockets guard Aaron Brooks addressed the media for the first time since receiving a one-game suspension for leaving the court in the fourth quarter of the team's win over Memphis on Saturday. Brooks expressed immense regret over his actions, and made clear his intention to atone for the incident.

“It's an embarrassing moment,” said Brooks. “I wish I wouldn't have done it. That's not the type of guy I am. I love this team. I just want to send my apologies to Mr. Alexander, the GM, the coaches and especially to the team. I let them down. It was just a big mistake.

“Right now my playing hasn't been where it needs to be. I need to pick it up personally… I just have to be a better person and man-up and take responsibility for what I've done.”

QUOTES

RICK ADELMAN

Tough loss after the win last night but you have to give Minnesota credit. They shot the heck out of the ball and a lot of guys contributed. They made big shots when they had to. We just didn’t make enough plays to win.

(were a lot of their looks shots that you wanted them to take?): Yeah, but I watched them last night and they did that last night (against the Hornets)… in the NBA, I don’t care what a team’s record is, these guys are all really good players when they get it going. You look at the different guys who made shots for them: Ellington off the bench, and of course Love. They played a good game and I don’t take anything away from them. We just didn’t make enough plays. They hurt us on the boards again, got 15 offensive rebounds, but it was just one of those nights where our guys tried we just didn’t have enough… Sometimes you just say of the other team: they played better. They made big shots when they had to and they played better.

(Courtney’s shot in the final seconds): We missed the play we wanted. We had Luis at the basket all by himself. If we could get a wide open look at a 3, fine. If not, we can get a quick 2 and then try to foul them right away and try to see what we can get. I don’t know if Kyle didn’t see Luis. But once Courtney got it, what we talked about was, if we can’t get a 3 then attack the basket and get a 2.

(On Aaron Brooks) “We needed him to come in and push the ball every time and try to find the other people, try to find the people he's playing with. It's been a tough couple days for everybody and he wasn't making any shots. The last possessions of the game, he'll get to the basket but Courtney (Lee) had such a good game going on I just went with him. He (Brooks) has to come in and push the ball and he's got to be aggressive whether it's him shooting or him finding other people. We have to do that if we are going to be successful. Like I said, we played that game last night ( Denver). You can't blame us because they ( Minnesota) played a back-to-back too but I don't know. Sometimes you just say, the other team played better. They ( Minnesota) made big shots when they had to. They played better.”

COURTNEY LEE

(on his season high scoring night): “It means nothing, we didn't come out with a victory. That's what everybody on this team is going out there to do. To win, play together and have fun and we didn't come out with a win tonight so, therefore, it means nothing.”

It’s definitely frustrating. A game like this, coming down to the end, when you know you’ve got to win the game off stops and we couldn’t get one. I mean, credit them, they were hitting a lot of tough shots down the stretch but still, it’s definitely frustrating.

My teammates did a good job executing screens and getting me in position to hit open shots.

SHANE BATTIER

It just came down to the fact they had better energy and superior confidence. They played loose and free last night and they felt good about themselves coming into the game and we didn’t do anything to alter that mindset.

They made a lot of long 2s and we’ll live with those shots. They made a couple tough 3s off the dribble, which is one of toughest shots in the game to make. You live with those shots. But they made a lot of shots that we can’t live with and that’s the problem.

They’re the No. 2 offensive rebounding team in the league so it was not a surprise that they came in here all over us on the boards. They’re more athletic and bigger than us and we just did not have a very good effort on the boards, and that gave them a lot of confidence.

(slow starts at home): We’ve not been a good home team this year. I don’t know why. We’ve played better on the road as a whole. It’s getting late in the season, we need to turn it around with the meat of our homestands coming up.

KYLE LOWRY

We didn’t play with enough energy. They made shots and we didn’t defend them.

We just didn’t play our game and play up to the potential of how we played last night. It sucks but we can’t let it get us down. We have three games until we get to the All-Star break, we can make a push to get close to the .500 and then start again after All-Star.

KEVIN MARTIN

(On the loss) “We came out very complacent and we paid for it. We better get one versus a couple of hard teams down the road. They (Timberwolves) got confidence. They were hitting tough shots the whole night and going down the stretch, you let a team like that hang around, they're playing loose and it happens.”

(On the Timberwolves) “They were a step ahead of us the whole night. The bottom line is they just looked like they wanted it more. They were cutting hard and setting great screens.”

T-WOLVES COACH KURT RAMBIS

(On the game) “I’m really proud of our guys. They brought a lot of energy to tonight’s game. This was our fourth game in five nights. They hung together as a team. We got contributions from everyone tonight.”

(On Kevin Love’s double-double record) “I’m happy that Kevin set the Minnesota double-double record for tonight. It means a lot to him and a lot to us as an organization.”

(On winning short handed) “Before the game, I wrote on the board, play hard and play together. It makes a huge difference when you do that. We played with a lot of energy and effort and we played hard all night.”

(On the three’s at the end of the game) “Kevin (Love) is a very good three point shooter and he finally got a good look. Wayne (Ellington) is very good at creating a good look. Those three’s were huge shots for us. I didn’t necessarily call for those shots but they both got good looks and made them.”

WAYNE ELLINGTON

(On the game) “It felt great even thought it was a little scary as they ( Houston) had a chance down the stretch. We came in knowing we would have a fight and everyone on the team picked things up and contributed.”

(On his play) “I always want the ball and on the three’s I stepped back and knocked them down. I had a good game here last year.”

KEVIN LOVE

(On his double-double tonight) “It was more sweet than anything because we got the win on the road. I was aware of it and it was really bugging me in the fourth quarter, but I knew we had enough time and I would get it. It was great to be in such good company with two great players like John Stockton and Kevin Garnett. It was very special for me.”

(On the game) “We have a lot of guys on this team that are consummate professionals. They work hard every day. The key thing tonight is we had our bench step up big and a lot of guys contributed to a big victory.”

SEBASTIAN TELFAIR

(On the bench play) “With being a point guard, it is very important when I come off the bench to get everyone involved. Most of the time if the bench plays good you win, if they don’t they lose. Our bench has been together for a year and we gel together and played defense and everything is coming together for us for a team.”

NOTES

The Rockets lost 112-108 to the Timberwolves tonight, snapping Houston’s 13-game winning streak (2/5/07-1/24/11) over Minnesota. Houston also saw an eight-game winning streak over the Timberwolves at Toyota Center come to an end (last home loss: 82-79 on 4/12/06).

The Timberwolves, who picked up their fourth away victory of the season, notched consecutive road wins for the first times since a string of three in a row back in 2008-09 (4/3/09-4/8/09).

Houston was outscored, 56-53, by Minnesota in the first half of tonight’s game. The Rockets had recorded at least 60 points in each of the previous four halves against the Timberwolves this season.

The Rockets lost the battle of the boards by a 51-31 (-20) count tonight, marking the largest differential against Houston this season (prev. high: -14, 49-35 on 1/12/11 vs. Oklahoma City).

Courtney Lee netted a season-high 23 points (9-15 FG, 4-4 FT), surpassing his previous season best of 19 points (8-14 FG, 3-5 3FG) vs. Oklahoma City (1/12/11).

Kevin Martin recorded 23 points (6-15 FG, 2-6 3FG, 9-9 FT) tonight. Martin has now scored 20-plus points in each of his last five games (143 points, 28.6 ppg from 2/1/11-2/8/11), including three 30-point outings.

Luis Scola finished with 22 points (11-18 FG) and a career-high seven assists (prev. high: six on 12/20/10 at Golden State).

Chuck Hayes had 10 points (5-10 FG), a season-high-tying 13 rebounds and a career-high-tying five steals (five steals on 4/8/07 at Sacramento). Hayes also extended his career best for consecutive double-figure scoring games to four in a row (2/2/11-2/8/11).

Kevin Love posted 20 points (6-14 FG, 3-5 3FG, 5-6 FT) and 14 rebounds tonight. Love picked up his club-record 38th consecutive double-double (11/22/10-2/8/11). Kevin Garnett set the Timberwolves previous record with 37 double-doubles in a row back in 2006 (2/1/06-11/6/06).

Wayne Ellington scored a career-high 18 points (6-10 FG, 2-3 3FG, 4-4 FT) tonight, surpassing his previous best of 17 points (most recent: 17 on 3/22/10 vs. Toronto).

Jonny Flynn also recorded a season-high 15 points (7-14 FG) to go along with his seven assists tonight. He set his previous best with 13 points last night at New Orleans (2/7/11).

Wesley Johnson made four of Minnesota’s six blocked shots tonight to set a career high for blocks, while Anthony Tolliver pulled down a season-high 10 rebounds.

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