Fred Faour: 5 quick observations from the Rockets' series clinching win over Minnesota
The Rockets advanced to the second round with an 122-104 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Rockets won the series 4-1 and will face either Utah or Oklahoma City in the next round. Here are five quick observations from Wednesday night’s win:
Halftime adjustments. For the second straight game, the Rockets flipped the game in the third quarter. They did not score 50, as they did in Game 4, but they erased a four-point deficit and entered the fourth quarter up 11. James Harden, awful in the first half, scored 15 and finished with 24 for the game. The Wolves scored just 15 in the quarter, so it was adjustments on both sides of the ball. Give some credit to Mike D’Antoni.
Timmmbbbeerrrr! (Sorry, could not resist). The Wolves played as well as they could have hoped for in the first half. Harden and Chris Paul were terrible. Karl Anthony Towns was a dominant force for the Wolves. Jimmy Butler came to play. And the Wolves only led by 4. This is a good team, but they simply had to have everything go right to win a game. It did in the first half, and they could not separate themselves. It came back to haunt them. If the Wolves are to take the next step, they need Andrew Wiggins to become more engaged and more consistent. He scored just 14 points in the elimination game and often looked out of sorts. Five of those came in garbage time.
Depth, numbers. While Harden and Paul struggled early, the Rockets got solid efforts from Trevor Ariza (16 points), P.J. Tucker (15), Clint Capela (26, 15 rebounds) and Eric Gordon (19). Capela continues to be a terrific finisher at the rim. The Rockets lesser lights held down the fort until Harden found the range, and when he did, it was over.
Raising their game. Yes, the Rockets won the series relatively easily, but they will need to play better moving forward. OKC or Utah might not be much tougher than the Wolves, but the Warriors are the real target, and the Rockets will need to be better. Positives: they controlled the boards, 40-38, even with Minnesota playing both Towns and Taj Gibson at the same time. Also, the Rockets only had four turnovers. Those factors and more consistency on offense will give them a puncher’s chance against the Warriors.
Versatility. The Rockets won their four games in different ways. Game 1 was all Harden. Game 2 he could not buy a shot, but the Rockets got it done. In Games 4 and 5, they did it with third-quarter outbursts and lockdown defense. They can score in transition. They can hit 3s. They can score in the half court on the pick and roll or in isolation. They were far from perfect in this series, and yet it was never in doubt. The Wolves might have been the third-best team in the West when Butler was healthy, and they were never a threat. It bodes well moving forward.