The Minnesota Timberwolves were hosting the high scoring, up tempo offense of the Houston Rockets on Wednesday. The Wolves were hoping the cold December night might cool down the Rockets scoring. This game also marked the return of Kevin McHale back to the Target Center and also the first meeting of these 2 teams all season. Prior to the game the Wolves announced that Ricky Rubio’s minute restriction will be lifted slightly starting against Houston.
Ricky was still not in the starting lineup, but the Wolves did welcomed back Kevin Love after 1 game out with an eye injury, who joined Pek, AK-47, Shved and Ridnour. The run and gun Rockets countered with Asik, Morris, Parsons, Harden and Lin. Neither team was able to find their stroke early, as both teams went scoreless for the first 2 minutes of the game. The Wolves broke the scoring drought with a corner 3 from Luke. There was no question the Rockets were looking to push the pace at every opportunity they could. The pace might have been too quick as both teams were a combined 5-20 with 6:48 left in the 1st quarter. As the quarter wore on, the underlying story lines developing were going to make for a great game, Pek vs. Asik, active gaurds for the Rockets vs. not as active gaurds for the Wolves, and Hardens beard vs. Loves beard. The 1st quarter also showed that when the Rockets score, or get the offense going, they get points in a hurry. While the Wolves ugly shooting start (25%) continued for the first 12 minutes, the Rockets finished the 1st quarter shooting 45% and led the Wolves 22-17 after 1 quarter.
To start the 2nd quarter the Wolves had some good news as Rubio got a driving lay-up as the shot clock was winding down. Ricky also drove the lane to find a cutting Cunningham and took a charge on the next 2 consecutive possessions. Ricky was looking active early which was a good sign to see. The Rockets offense is truly fun and unique to watch, if the Rockets struggle to get a fast break lay-up, they grow almost bored in the half court set and settle for a lot of 3’s, drive and kick. Derrick Williams had a nice showing in the 2nd quarter while he was on the floor he went 2-2 from 3 for 6 points and a +2 in a 6 minute span of play and helped the Wolves tie the game at 31. The Rockets (30th in the NBA in turnovers), had 10 with 5 minutes to play in the 1st half. Those turnovers helped the Wolves keep it to a 3 points game with 3:30 remaining in the 2nd quarter. Alexey Shved really ate up James Harden on the offensive end as the first half wound down and scored on 2 straight possessions, and got the Wolves the lead with 2:15 remaining to play in the 1st half. The Wolves used a 9-1 run to take a 44-41 lead in the 2nd quarter, until James Harden broke the run and tied it back up at 44 with 1:21 left in the half. The Wolves went on a 12-4 run going 6-8 to finish off the half shooting 41.3% and take a 47-44 lead into halftime.
Pek went to the locker room due to an illness in the 2nd quarter. Seeing Pek go to the locker room during play was a bit frustrating, but knowing he was just ill is a small victory for the Wolves who have seen player after player go to the locker room with injury after injury. The Wolves shooting was not at its best in the 1st half, after starting 6-24 for 17 points, they finished the half shooting 19-46 for 41%. Holding the Rockets high powered offense to just 44 1st half points was also a good sign for the Wolves. If the Wolves were going to win the contest, their transition defense was going to be paramount in the 2nd half. The Wolves were also going to need to continue to force turnovers while limiting theirs. The Wolves only had 4 turnovers in the 1st half, while forcing the Rockets into 12 turnovers. The Bench’s production was also going to be needed, as they outscored the Rockets bench 24-9.
With Pek in the locker room due to illness, the Wolves started Love at the 5, Cunningham, AK, Shved and Luke. The Rockets entered the 2nd half with the same 5 they started the game with. Cunningham’s energy was instantly noticeable to start the 3rd quarter, as he had a huge block on one end and nice off ball cut for a dunk at the other. The Wolves started the 3rd quarter with defense and consequently that led to offense. Kevin Love blocked Parsons and in transition Shved hit a 3 from the wing and gave the Wolves a 54-46 lead with 9:21 to play in the 3rd quarter. The Rockets, while entertaining when shots are falling able to run, really struggle when they shots aren’t falling and have to run half-court offense. The Wolves offense on the other hand, really showed this team is starting to learn and understand all of Rick Adelman’s system. Players were cutting and moving without the ball and playing unselfish basketball. No matter how well a team plays on the offense, when the shots stop falling it is impossible to score, that happened to the Wolves after opening up a 14 point lead, they went on a 1-9 stretch and saw the lead shrink to 5 (62-59) with 2:27 left to play in the 3rd quarter. With 47.5 to play and the Wolves leading 62-61, Pek made his was back onto the court. His presence allowed the Wolves to gett their first basket in almost 5 minutes and take a 64-61 lead into the 4th and final quarter.
Entering the 4th quarter the Wolves and Rockets traded baskets, through 4 minutes of the 4th quarter, the Wolves still held a 3 point advantage. The final period of the game wasn’t the prettiest of quarters. With 5:39 to play, the Wolves held a 76-74 lead, and both teams were shooting 39%. James Harden went on a streak where he had scored 9 straight points, and gave the Rockets back a 79-78 lead with 4:27 to play. The cold blooded Russian, Alexey Shved hit a huge 3 and gave the Wolves back the lead at 81-79. Jeremy Lin came right back down the floor and hit a long 2 of his own and tied the game up at 81 with 3:11 to play. Alexey Shved came up huge in the 4th quarter as tied up Lin to force a jump ball, which immediately caused Kirilenko to get fouled by Asik. After going 1-2 from the free throw line, James Harden sprinted up the court to get a lay-up and give the Rockets a 1 point lead 83-82. Alexey Shved brought the ball back up the floor, drove the lane and found a cutting Kirilenko for a 2 point lay-up and gave the Wolves back the lead with 1:54 left. Both teams traded missed 3 point field goals on the next 3 possessions. After a ball out of bounds on the Wolves, James Harden drove to the hoop and gave the Rockets back a 1 point lead. Berea lost the ball driving to the hoop on the next offensive possession for the Wolves, and Harden converted on the offensive end and opened the lead to 3 for the Rockets with 11.7 to play. Out of a time out, the Wolves got the ball to Alexey Shved for a last second 3 to tie the game, which was off the mark as time expired. The Wolves fell back to .500 at 13-13 on the 87-84 loss to the Rockets.
The crowd at the Target Center was the 3rd largest crowd in Wolves history at 20,340.
The box office said they had to turn away 200-300 people.
James Harden had 17 4th quarter points en route to a 30 point performance.
The Wolves once again had a double digit lead at one point of the second half, only to lose in the final minutes of the game.
Kevin Loves shooting continues to struggle as he went 3-14 for 7 points.
The Wolves bench outscored the Rockets bench 43-20.
After only 4 turnovers in the 1st half the Wolves had 10 in the 2nd half. The Rockets had 12 in the 1st half and 5 in the 2nd.
The Wolves will try to move back over .500 on the 29th as the host the Phoenix Suns with a 7 o’clock tip.