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Friday February 17, 2012 10:54 PM

Minnesota Masters Rockets Once More

Love, Pekovic prove too much for Houston, lead T-Wolves to 111-98 win

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com




HOUSTON - Kevin McHale’s reaction said it all.

Sitting at the postgame podium, the Rockets Head Coach glanced at Friday night’s box score while fielding questions about his club’s 111-98 loss at the hands of the Minnesota Timberwolves. McHale cited some of the numbers that doomed his team to defeat – Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic’s combined 63 points and 29 rebounds; Minnesota’s 56 percent shooting – and then, after awhile, made the kind of statement that said more than words ever could. Before leaving, he crumpled up the box score, tossed it across the room and said good riddance to a game that surely left most Rockets fans feeling the exact same way.

“They just kicked our tail,” he said. “They rolled hard, got in the paint and we didn’t have any answers for them. They played very well. They were too much for us.”

Indeed, full credit must go out to a Minnesota team that fired on all cylinders all night long and one that, truth be told, seems to now have the Rockets’ number. Friday’s result marked the third straight game the Timberwolves have had their way with Houston, outscoring the Rockets by an average of 11 points per game over that stretch.

Minnesota assumed control right from the outset Friday night, repeatedly pounding the Rockets with a series of body blows delivered along the interior. And appropriately enough, it was the Timberwolves’ burly bruiser Nikola Pekovic who set that tone, scoring 19 first half points on a seemingly endless succession of pick-and-rolls and putbacks. With the Rockets’ interior defense suitably softened, the rest of Pekovic’s teammates took full advantage, resulting in a 61-point half for the Wolves – a number that, coincidentally enough, matched Minnesota’s shooting percentage through the opening two quarters as well.

The second half initially offered little in the form of a respite for Houston as the Timberwolves interior domination continued, allowing Minnesota to open up a lead that ballooned to as many as 17 points late in the third quarter. But rather than roll over, the Rockets rolled the dice with a small lineup that nearly produced a miraculous comeback. Houston opened the final frame with a scintillating 17-4 run that sent a jolt through the Toyota Center crowd which seemed to sense the possibility of something special on the horizon. With Courtney Lee, Kyle Lowry and Chandler Parsons each connecting from 3-point territory during the stretch, the Rockets gave their raucous fans reason to hope, having rapidly trimmed their deficit to a single, solitary point.

And then, just as quickly, Minnesota’s ‘other’ big man went to work. Kevin Love answered the Rockets’ run with back-to-back 3-pointers of his own before following up a teammates’ miss with yet another bucket. All told, Love scored 14 of the Timberwolves’ 20 fourth quarter points on his way to finishing with eye-popping totals of 33 points and 17 rebounds. Then toss in Pekovic’s career-high 30 points, Minnesota’s 44-26 rebounding advantage and their 64 points in the paint, and McHale’s disgusted reaction to the final box score doesn’t just make sense – it essentially stood as the only suitable reaction to such a one-sided contest.

“We just weren’t doing what we wanted to do,” said Luis Scola. “Nothing was working. It’s a really tough loss for us. They’ve just been outplaying us this season. They beat us three times in a row. They’re just playing better than us – at least when they play against us.”

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

They just kicked our tail. They just rolled us down, got inside of us, we didn’t have contact with them – they just beat us up. Bottom line, Pekovic had nine offensive rebounds, Rubio dribbled around and made shots, made passes, Ridnour got loose early – they just beat us up. They rolled hard, got in the paint and we didn’t have any answers for them. They played very well. They were too much for us.

(needed to push the ball more?): We couldn’t get stops. You can’t push the ball if you’re taking it out of the net all the time. You have to get some stops. We got some turnovers to get some stops but it was all too late. They set the tone early with a 30-point quarter in the first and 31-point quarter in the second. They were just too much for us tonight.

LUIS SCOLA

They were playing a good game. We just weren’t doing what we wanted to do. Nothing was working. It’s a really tough loss for us. They’ve just been outplaying us this season. They beat us three times in a row. They’re just playing better than us – at least when they play against us.

CHANDLER PARSONS

They’re very talented. When they play like they did tonight they’re very tough to beat. I don’t really think they have our number, they just played tough, hard-nosed and physical and when they’re rolling like that we’ve got to bang with them, play aggressive and be the aggressors. Their big guys dominated the game tonight. And when we made the run, we can’t just play like that for five or six minutes – we’ve got to play like that for the full 48 minutes.

(run out of gas after those Love treys?): They were getting the pick-and-roll with Pekovic every time so I was at the four guarding Love. I tried to bump him to avoid (him beating me inside) so he took a few steps back and hit two contested 3-pointers. I’d rather him shoot that than dunk the ball but maybe I over-helped a little bit – I have to watch the film. They were just two tough shots from a good player and they answered.

COURTNEY LEE

(On the difference on the end of the game) “You have to credit them (Minnesota) and Rick (Adelman) for calling a timeout and making an adjustment. He started to run plays for Kevin Love and at some point I was guarding him and Chandler (Parsons) was guarding him. So, when they were going away from him (Love), that's when we were doing good. We were getting steals and getting stops and getting out running so when they called timeout they went back out and started utilizing him.”

(On the loss being frustrating) “Yeah, we got within 1 (point). We were right there. All we had to do was get a couple more stops as the game went on. We needed to make a couple of adjustments to match up with their adjustments that they made. This game could have easily been ours.”

KEVIN MARTIN

(On the frustrating loss) “Any loss is frustrating but they are a good team. They provide a couple of match up problems for us and coming off a big win, sometimes you come out like that. We just have to regroup and come out Sunday better.”

(On what went wrong after the Rockets made a run) “(Kevin) Love hit a couple of big 3's and that's one of the match up problems that we couldn't stop tonight. We just had one of those games and move on.”

KYLE LOWRY

(On Minnesota being a tough match up for the Rockets) “They (Minnesota) did some good things. Their big men are really big and strong and know how to play. They made some big shots and they got some good rebounds, offensive rebounds.”

(On the Rockets problems defensively) “It's pretty much the same offense (by Minnesota). They've just got the spacing for it and Kevin Love, who can make those 3's and make big shots like he did down the stretch tonight.”

MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES COACH RICK ADELMAN

(On the Love and Pekovic) “63 points and 29 rebounds is pretty good. That was really unbelievable. When Houston cut it to one, then Love stepped up and hit 2 big threes. He made the big shots for us and that’s what we need. He did it when the game was on the line. Those two were awesome, but I loved the way our team played and the way we responded. Love took over the game down the stretch.”

(On getting his second win in Houston against the Rockets) “It’s important, those guys in that locker room (Houston) are special to me. But it was special to me and I talked about it before the game with our team that they are ahead of us in the standings but we had beat them twice and wanted to get the third one. It means a lot because of where we are trying to get. We are trying to win some games before the All-Star break and this is a big step.”

(On the game) “We thought we had a big advantage before the game with Love and Pek inside. A lot of people haven’t paid attention to Pek, but he’s been doing this to everybody. We thought we had an advantage there.”

LUKE RIDNOUR

(On the win) “This was a huge win for us. We needed a push before the all star game to get in a better position. This one was pretty big. “

(On the zone defense in 4th quarter) “They didn’t make it look very good, Houston hit a lot of three’s. They spread us out and hit their 3’s. We came back to a man to man in the last 5 minutes and hit our shots.”

NIKOLA PEKOVIC

(On the teams play) “Tonight we had control from the beginning of the game. We knew what they wanted to do and we did what we had to to win the game. Tonight was a great win for us. Houston is a great team with great players and it was really a big time win for us. We knew they would come and make a run and in the 4th quarter they tried to get us and then we stepped up and started to play the way we are supposed to. And then we won the game in the end.”

(On his play) “It was not easy. It maybe looked easy, but it was very difficult. I am trying to play hard and even if I start missing you can not let it affect you. You can’t do everything perfect, but if you play hard you know something good will come.”

KEVIN LOVE

(On the game)  “This wasn’t about me, this was about our team competing down the stretch and executing, it was a game of runs, obviously they came back from 17 and cut it to one and then we went on a run of our own. I am really happy for the team, the coaching staff, for us to come out a play a good game.”

(His play in fourth quarter) “More than anything, I needed to hit shots. We came out of that timeout feeling like we needed to calm down and whatever they did, we went down and executed our offense. I hit the shots, but it’s not about me, it’s about everybody stepping up and making big plays.”

(Love on Pekovic) “He is a rising star. He’s been playing great this season for us and we are happy to have him, and he carried us on his back. He’s been consistent day in and day out, and you know what you’re going to get from him. He’s a guy that you put out there and he’s going to get points, rebounds and draw fouls on the other team, he plays hard, and we love having him.”

NOTES

Minnesota captured a 111-98 victory over Houston tonight, giving the Timberwolves the season series by a 3-1 margin. The last time Minnesota took a season series from Houston was 2-1 in 2004-05.

The Timberwolves made 43-of-77 (.558) from the field and 20-of-23 (.870) from the charity stripe tonight. Minnesota also set opponent season highs in points scored (120), field goal percentage (.581, 43-74 FG) and free throws made (.903, 28-31 FT) in the last meeting at Toyota Center (1/30/12).

The Rockets allowed 61 first-half points (.610, 25-41 FG) to the Timberwolves tonight, giving Minnesota two of the five 60-point halves scored against Houston this season (other: 66 in 2nd half on 1/30/12).

Houston went 10-of-20 (.500) from beyond the arc tonight. The Rockets, who recorded a 19-5 mark in 2010-11 when hitting 10 or more 3-pointers in a game, are just 2-4 this season when reaching double-digits from downtown.

The Rockets grabbed a season-low 26 rebounds, losing the battle of the boards by 18 rebounds (26-44).

Minnesota set Houston’s opponent season high with 64 points in the paint tonight. The previous best was 62 in the paint by the Clippers at Los Angeles (1/4/12).

Chandler Parsons led the Rockets with 18 points (8-15 FG, 2-6 3FG) and six rebounds tonight. Parsons also topped Houston in scoring one other time this season with 20 points (9-16 FG, 2-4 3FG) and seven boards in an 82-70 win at Charlotte (1/10/12).

Kyle Lowry notched 17 points (7-16 FG) to go with a team-high six assists. Goran Dragic, who topped the Rockets in assists with nine dimes off the bench vs. Minnesota (1/30/12), matched Lowry with six helpers of his own tonight.

Courtney Lee equaled his season-high 17 points (6-11 FG, 4-4 3FG) tonight. Lee originally netted his season-best 17 points (7-12 FG, 2-4 3FG) vs. New Orleans (1/19/12).

Kevin Love posted 33 points (11-16 FG, 2-4 3FG, 9-10 FT), 14 rebounds and two blocks tonight. It marked his league-leading 27th double-double of the season.

Nikola Pekovic registered a career-high 30 points (13-20 FG, 4-5 FT), 12 rebounds, three steals and three blocks tonight, which marked his eighth double-double of the season. His previous career best in scoring was 27 points at New Jersey (2/3/12).

Ricky Rubio finished with 18 points (6-13 FG, 2-5 3FG, 4-4 FT) and nine assists tonight. He had recorded double-digit assist totals in each of the first three meetings with Houston this season (12 on 1/23/12, 11 on 1/30/12 and 11 on 2/4/12).

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