NBA PLAYOFFS

Fred Faour: 5 quick observations from the Rockets' series clinching win over Minnesota

Clint Capela had a big series for the Rockets. Houston Rockets/Facebook

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

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Houston dropped two of three

Astros drop series finale to Oakland, A's win series

Jose Urquidy couldn't hold Oakland back on Saturday. Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

With Oakland finally ending their drought against the Astros on Friday night to split the first two games of the series, and with the Angels staying in step with them as both teams started the day 6-2, the Astros needed a win to keep momentum in their favor on Saturday.

Instead, Oakland would outslug Houston once again to take the series finale and take the series win. The loss moves Houston to 6-3 and down to second place, at least for now, until the 6-2 Angels complete their game on Saturday evening.

Final Score: A's 7, Astros 3

Astros' Record: 6-3, second in AL West

Winning Pitcher: Frankie Montas (1-1)

Losing Pitcher: Jose Urquidy (0-1)

Urquidy gives up four over six

Much like the night before, Oakland was able to bring in runs against Houston's starter, this time Jose Urquidy, Saturday afternoon in their second time through the order. Their first time through, Urquidy was cruising, allowing just one baserunner in the first three innings on a single in the top of the third.

Things shifted in the top of the fourth, with the A's getting back-to-back singles to set the stage for a two-run frame with dual RBI-singles to take a 2-0 lead. Oakland doubled that in the fifth, getting a two-out single to set up a two-run homer by Ramon Laureano to make it 4-0. Urquidy would go on to finish six innings, but with no run support to that point, would leave in line for the loss. His final line: 6.0 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 7 K, 93 P.

A's pad their lead before Houston gets on the board

Meanwhile, although getting five hits, the Astros could not get anything on the board against Frankie Montas through six innings. Brandon Bielak took over out of the bullpen for Urquidy in the top of the seventh, but after loading the bases, he would allow a dagger two-RBI single to make it a 6-0 deficit for Houston.

With Montas starting the seventh looking to face a batter or two before Oakland moved to their bullpen, Kyle Tucker would finally get Houston on the board with a leadoff solo home run, cutting the lead to 6-1 and ending Montas' day. Houston would get a two-out rally going, with an RBI-double by Jose Altuve followed by an RBI-triple by Michael Brantley to make it a three-run game at 6-3.

Oakland takes the series win

Ryne Stanek tried to keep it a three-run game and give the Astros a chance to stay in it in the top of the eighth but instead would give up a two-out solo home run to push Oakland's lead back to four. That 7-3 score would go final as Houston would go scoreless in the eighth and ninth.

Up Next: Houston will have a day off on Sunday before continuing this homestand Monday night by welcoming in Detroit and former manager A.J. Hinch for three games. In the series opener, the Tigers will send young star Casey Mize (0-0, 2.25 ERA) to the mound, while the Astros will get another start by Zack Greinke (1-0, 1.38 ERA).

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