Wolves Ground Rockets, Win 92-79
Web Editorial Assistant
Something had to give.
Either the Timberwolves or the Rockets were going to walk away from the Target Center with a snapped losing streak, and despite an unfamiliar lineup, the Wolves snapped their five-game skid with a 92-79 victory over Houston.
And it was two unlikely heroes that led the way. Center Chris Johnson and forward Mickael Gelabale, each of whom signed 10-day contracts Saturday morning, combined to score the Wolves’ first 23 points in the fourth quarter—energizing a team that had nine healthy players dressed for the game.
“That’s why we got them,” Andrei Kirilenko said. “We needed help, and I think they did such a great job, especially for their first game. Chris is not a new guy, he’s been with us, and he kind of knows the offense, but it’s still very tough to come and play from scratch. I think they did a tremendous job, and they brought us a win. We needed that win. We need to get back on track.”
Wolves vs Rockets
Johnson was pulled up from the D-League and was a free agent invitee at the Wolves Training Camp this past fall. He appeared in three preseason games for Minnesota, and received a quick alley-oop from J.J. Barea within seconds of his on-court debut in the second quarter.
The shorthanded Wolves have had to clock a lot of minutes, and having two pairs of fresh legs not only helped with the energy level, but Johnson and Gelabale helped turn it around in the fourth quarter after Houston had a big 10-2 run to close out the third.
Interim Wolves head coach Terry Porter applauded Johnson’s ability to run the floor—his efforts helped the Wolves maintain a lead and close out the game.
“I just thought the activity was great in regard to our offense,” Porter said. “Having great patience, making them defend us, it was just a solid effort I thought throughout the whole game.”
It was a much-needed boost, given that Nikola Pekovic missed the game with a right quad contusion, Alexey Shved was inactive with a sprained left ankle and Dante Cunningham was a late scratch due to illness.
But the Wolves persevered. Kirilenko said preventing points in the paint attributed to Saturday’s win.
“They have a lot of points off the penetration hard off the lean,” Kirilenko said. “They’re going in and they create those situations scoring inside, and I think we did a pretty good job to build those walls right in front of them.”
James Harden scored just 18 points on 5-of-18 shooting for the Rockets, who have now lost seven straight games—a slide they haven’t seen since Jan. 6-18, 2006.
“I thought the guys who had to guard the tough James Harden did a great job of really trying to get into him, not giving him any space,” Porter said. “Again, whenever he got to the basket, we had somebody there to try to make him change, but he’s such a great finisher.”
Johnson credited the Timberwolves coaching staff for putting him in the right position to be successful, and based on the noise from the crowd, Johnson helped the energy build on the court and in the stands.
“It feels good, I just have to be ready to play,” Johnson said. “Whenever they call my name, I just have to bring energy every single time they put me in.”
Leaders of the Pack: Chris Johnson and Mickael Gelabale
Both Gelabale and Johnson were signed to 10-day contracts and lit it up in the Target Center for a combined 26 points—23 of 29 in the fourth quarter alone. Johnson finished the night 4-for-4 from the field, and Gelabale was 3-of-6 from the floor as well. The two combined to go 12-of-15 from the line. But the duo did more than just contribute on the offensive end. Johnson altered shots with his shot-blocking and length, and Gelabale picked up important minutes on the defensive end as well. The two logged a combined 39 minutes tonight, a big boost for a team playing with nine active players.
Highlight of the Night
Chris Johnson started the fourth quarter with four quick points—he came off of two made free throws with his second alley-oop of the night from Luke Ridnour. The Target Center hopped out of their seats and began to chant, “MVP.” Johnson and Gelabale went on to tally all 21 points with 3:21 remaining in the fourth quarter, and ended up with 23 points in the quarter overall.
The Numbers Game
“When you talk about a game like this, it’s who makes shots and who makes stops. We were able to do that. We were able to get easy baskets when we needed them, but we were also able to do a good job defensively, just one shot and done, so that was great to see.” — Wolves interim coach Terry Porter
The Wolves will head to Atlanta to take on the Hawks on Monday and return to the Target Center Wednesday to face the Brooklyn Nets.