Rockets 119, Wolves 100 - Fifty

By Forrest Walker on April 23, 2018

The Houston Rockets are terrifying. When the shots start to fall, when the defense locks in, when the momentum begins to build, James Harden and his Rockets are, for quarters at a time, unbeatable. On an evening when the Minnesota Timberwolves held their own for a half and doubts began to float up from the peanut gallery, the Rockets landed the third-quarter haymaker to end all haymakers. with 24 minutes left in the ball game, Houston was up by a single point. By the end of the third quarter, the Rockets had grown that lead by 30 points and scored a staggering 50 points in one period. The first half of the game was rendered moot and the last quarter was made inconsequential. For 12 game minutes, the whole world got a look at the team Houston is hoping to be.

The Rockets weren't going to miss all their open looks forever. The first half of this game was almost a microcosm of this series, and Houston's playoff travails last season as well.The Rockets played passable defense, generated the three point looks they wanted and got to the rim often. They also missed everything. They shot under 30% in the first quarter and struggled to claw their way to a one-point lead at the half. Whatever ensorcellment had burdened their shooting in the first two games continued to ail them.

The Minnesota Timberwolves believed that they could make this into a series, evening it up at 2-2. Harden started the game 0-7 and his reputation for fading in the playoffs was gaining steam. The chorus of boos from the crowd upgraded themselves into a "James Harden sucks" chant in the closing minutes of the first half. The stage was set.

The only surprise was that it wasn't set for Minnesota at all.

Harden scored 22 points in the third quarter alone, ending with 36 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and an amazing 4 steals. He shot 12-19 after that 0-fer start and was utterly unstoppable. He is, by all indications, the league's most valuable player. He's also probably going to win that award. He silenced the critics and pushed the Wolves into a nearly insurmountable hole, with a closeout game at home on the horizon. Timberwolves fans may think twice before taunting James Harden again, and they now have to hope they're allowed another chance this season.

The Rockets couldn't have perpetrated this indignity without both of their stars, and Chris Paul was an utter revelation. He scored 25 on 9-17 shooting, and this doesn't accurately describe how unguardable he was around the basket. His 6 rebounds and 6 assists were great. His 5 steals were monstrous. His pickpocketing skills were shown off no better than in a fourth quarter possession in which he simply removed the ball from Derrick Rose's possession. Rose actually, literally moved to dribble the ball again before realizing it had been stolen from behind.

Of course, by the time the fourth quarter rolled around, it was over. The Wolves staged a bit of a late run, and to their credit they closed the lead by 11 points and motivated Houston's starters to stay in longer than they should have. By that time, however, all was lost. This game swung from confidence-boosting and series-changing to utterly crushing in the blink of an eye. Minnesota kept at it, but it's hard to see them not being drained by this nightmare gut-punch as they travel to Houston to fight for their lives.

For the Houston Rockets, the playoffs are about so much more than beating the Minnesota Timberwolves. It's not surprising that they might look forward a bit, let their foot off the gas a bit and let the Wolves grab a game. It's also dangerous and a habit they can't get into. If they hope to make it to June this season, they'll need fewer games like game 3, and more games like tonight. Hell, if they have a few more quarters like that third quarter, they might have a shot.

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