Rockets 122, Wolves 104 - Regression and Progression

By Forrest Walker on April 25, 2018

The Houston Rockets have finished off the Minnesota Timberwolves and will be heading to the second round of the NBA playoffs. They outcome, while never in any real contention, is still cause for celebration for the Rockets team and their fans. This game was a miniature story all its own, and in this story lies the possibility for disastrous regression or aspirant progression in these playoffs. But for today, the Rockets get to go home with a series win under their belt and at least four more games to look forward to in this playoff season.

This game, individually, was as bizarre as any we've seen this series. It played like a combination of games 3 and 4, with the hot-shooting for the Wolves of game 3 and the overall arc of game 4. The Wolves shot over 60% from three point range in the first half and took advantage of a sluggish defensive start from Houston to take a 4-point lead into the second half. Derrick Rose was a sharpshooter, James Harden and Chris Paul had one field goal between them, and the game was generally an unsustainable mess that slightly favored Minnesota.

Then, the Rockets appeared in the third quarter and the situation normalized. It wasn't the legendary thrashing of the previous 3rd quarter, but a 30-15 disparity was plenty to right the ship. Minnesota's shooting fell of as the Rockets tightened the defense, Harden and Paul came alive, and the Rockets reasserted reality on the game. Various means were regressed to, and all of them were good for Houston. The 4th barely seemed competitive, despite the fact that Houston only added 7 more points to the lead. The game was over, and with it the series.

The good news is that the means were regressed to after a while. The Rockets seem to particularly struggle with streaky shooting in the playoffs, and this series has been no exception. Last season they beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in 5 despite their three point shooting cratering and never coming back. This season, it fluctuated seemingly randomly and this first round also ended with 4 wins in 5 games. It's likely preferable this way, as streakiness will, often, even out. a downward slope, on the other hand, would be a terrifying trend.

It is this regression to the mean that Houston needs to hope for and work toward. It is through this regression that they can progress not just past a messy and confusing Wolves series, but potentially all the way to the NBA finals. Their effort and composure in the first halves of games was bad in this series, and if they can clean that up, they have every reason to believe they can make the next team on the docket take an early vacation.

Of course, that's for next week. This week was about the Rockets closing out the Minnesota Timberwolves, a good team in a bad matchup. There will be no more Rockets games for a few days, a privilege they earned and that the Utah Jazz and OKC Thunder have not. If you like seeing the Rockets win basketball games, now is a great time to celebrate them not having to play any.

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