Harden's Late Baskets Lift Rockets Past Wolves, 87-84
Coming into the game, the question was how Minnesota was going to slow down the fast-paced Houston Rockets.
And the Wolves largely succeeded, holding the highest-scoring team in the league to just 87 points. But their offense stalled for stretches at a time, leading to a 87-84 loss to the Rockets in a sold-out Target Center on Wednesday night.
“Our defense kept us on top,” J.J. Barea said. “But we’ve got to do a better job of executing at the end.”
Wolves vs Rockets
Up at one point by as much as 14, the Wolves gave up 17 fourth-quarter points to James Harden. Harden attacked the rim hard, gaining points through lay-ups and free throws in willing his team back into the game.
“He’s a good player,” guard Alexey Shved said. “The first two quarters we played him great... but after he starts finding his game, he makes some shots.”
Minnesota struggled in the first quarter, shooting just 25 percent from the field—a season low. They had a much better second quarter when Shved scored back-to-back baskets to regain the lead for the Wolves, and a 25-6 run between the second and third quarters gave them a lead by as much as 14.
With the Wolves up by three going into the fourth quarter, Harden exploded for 17 points. He brought the Rockets to a 87-84 advantage with 11 seconds left, where coach Rick Adelman ran a play and Shved got the final look, eventually missing an attempt from the perimeter and sealing the game for Houston.
“They were just switching everything, and it was pretty tough,” Kevin Love said on the Wolves’ final attempt. “They contested Alexey pretty well on that last shot.”
Love had a tough night, scoring just seven points on 3-for-14 shooting, including 0-for-7 from the 3-point line.
“He’ll be fine. I just, he’s our star, you know,” Barea said. “I keep telling him you’re the star, you’ve got to take the shots. I’ll live with him shooting open 3’s and I’ll live with him posting up and shooting if he wants to. But he’s our star player, it happens to everybody. He’ll get it going.”
Barea led the Wolves with 18 points, and Shved had 16 of his own as the only two Minnesota players in double digits. Love led the effort on the boards with 12.
“We’re right there,” Love said after the game. “A couple things go our way, we’ll be fine. We’ll be fine.”
Harden finished with 30 for Houston, and Chandler Parsons added another 12. Omer Asik led all rebounders with 17.
Leader of the Pack: J.J. Barea
With Love struggling and Nikola Pekovic battling an illness, Barea stepped up as Minnesota’s main scoring threat. He made 7-of-14 shots—including two from long distance—to end up with 18 points on the night. He also ripped down seven boards and had three steals.
“Yeah, they ran pretty hard but we got back pretty good,” Barea said after the game. “It’s just one of those tough losses that you’ve got to take.”
Highlight of the Night
Just after the halftime break, Dante Cunningham blocked a shot from Parsons and raced down to the other end just in time to received a feed from Andrei Kirilenko. The end-to-end play began a run that solidified a double-digit Wolves lead.
The Numbers Game
“He stayed aggressive. You’ve got to give him a lot of credit. We couldn’t stop him in that pick and roll in the middle. He did a great job of splitting us and getting to the rim. Anytime you let a guy get to the rim that often it’s going to be a bad night.” — Barea on Harden, who went off for 30 points against the Wolves, including 17 in the fourth quarter.
The Wolves the Phoenix Suns on Saturday at home, and then they embark on a two-game road trip to play Utah and Denver on Jan 2 and 3, respectively.