Rockets blast Timberwolves, hit big 5-0

Rockets lead series 3-1

When you play a great team in the playoffs, you cannot lose your focus and concentration. You can’t miss free throws, and you must protect the basketball and value every possession.

Houston led the NBA in the regular season with a 65-17 record and they believe they can win the NBA Championship. The Timberwolves, in the playoffs for the first time in 14 years, have battled the high-flying Rockets, who average 112 points a game and set an NBA record by making more three-point shots in the regular season than any team in NBA history.

James Harden on the attack vs. Taj Gibson (left) and Karl-Anthony Towns (Steve Floyd/MSR News)

After winning 121-105 Saturday at Target Center, led by Jimmy Butler’s 28 points and Karl-Anthony Towns’ 18 points and 16 rebounds, the Timberwolves Monday had a chance to even the best-of-seven series 2-2.

After holding the Rockets to 104, 102 and 105 points in the first three games, well below their scoring average, the Timberwolves played an intense physical first half before a raucous sellout crowd of 18,978 at Target Center. At one point they led by seven; the game had five lead changes and was tied five times.

It was 50-49 Rockets at the half — anybody’s game, right? I’ve been covering the NBA since 1978, and Monday night I saw something in the NBA playoffs for the first time. Houston came out in the third quarter with NBA-leading scorer James Harden, Chris Paul and Clint Capela and scored 50 points in the third quarter. The last time a team scored 50 points in a single quarter of an NBA playoff game was the Los Angeles Lakers in 1962.

Yes, they hit the big 5-0 and the game was all but over with the Rockets 100 and Timberwolves 69 after three quarters. The Rockets’ eruption sucked the life out of the sellout crowd. It was breathtaking, like being in a wind tunnel. The Rockets grabbed a commanding 3-1 series lead and can advance to round two with a victory Wednesday in game five in Houston.

Harden had a game-high 36 points, Paul 25 points. Capela blocked four shots and grabbed a game-high 17 rebounds and had 14 points. The Rockets made 16 three-point shots to Minnesota’s eight.

Harden (left) and Jimmy Butler. Harden had a game-high 36 points. (Steve Floyd/MSR News)

The Rockets had just six turnovers; the Timberwolves were careless with 16. The Rockets made 23 of 26 free throws; the Timberwolves missed nine free throws, making 14 of 23. And point guard Jeff Teague, the Timberwolves player with the most post-season experience, was awful; he scored two points and had three turnovers. It was Rockets 119, Timberwolves 100 in game four.

Minnesota outscored the Rockets 31-19 in the fourth quarter. Maybe, just maybe, they can carry that momentum to Houston and regain their focus against the high-flying Rockets. It takes four wins to advance. Trailing 3-1, the Timberwolves must win Wednesday to force game six.

If not, it’s still the best season in 14 years for the Timberwolves, and it’s the first time in Minnesota history that all the state’s pro teams – the Lynx, Twins, Vikings, Wild and Timberwolves, qualified for the playoffs.