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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Jae'Sean Tate had himself a night. Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images.

No Christian Wood. No Kevin Porter Jr. No Jalen Green. No problem. Jae’ Sean Tate became a complete superhero for the Houston Rockets versus the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night.

He recorded 32 points, 10 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 5.0 blocks, and 2.0 steals and shot 73 percent from the field. With that stat line, he joined former Rocket Hakeem Olajuwon and other historic big men from the past, which Tim MacMahon reported.

Tate is known for his leadership and the ability to be humble. When a reporter asked Tate about the stat line, he said, “How many turnovers? Nah, 25 assists, that’s what sup! Can’t be mad at that.” An expression like that shows the importance of putting his teammates first before taking all the shine. Tate is providing more passion with communication and being the rock that the "Baby Rockets" can lean on.

Coach Silas' confidence in Tate is something built from last year and it shows. Those two have constant dialogue throughout the game, and it’s seen before the huddle or when Silas is standing on the sideline before he calls a play. Silas has run consistent sets for Tate, as he did that within the 15-game losing streak. He dialed up an out of bounds action with 33.4 seconds left, so Tate could make a clutch layup towards the rim.

“Long, long, long ago in his rookie year…we definitely have a bond and with those two guys out, we needed some scoring,” Silas said. “He was the guy who was playing the hardest from start to finish and down the stretch we ran that elbow iso for him. And he just went through his defender and finished. And he made some huge plays in the 4th quarter, which is what you need. Yeah, I trust him as much as anybody else, and he has earned that, and he deserves it.”

“That just shows the confidence Coach Silas, and my teammates have in me,” said Tate. “We lost some of our primary guys tonight. And not only me, but everybody also stepped up.”

His usage rating is slowly going up, which is posted at 18.9 percent per NBA stats. In isolation, Tate is averaging 1.00 points per possession, which puts him in the 75th percentile(!) per NBA stats. Tate is seeing more action out of the corner, so it can allow him to get to his left hand on offense. The elbow iso action is a play that Tate has run since high school, college, overseas, and in the NBA now. He mentioned that the set allows him to get comfortable when his number is called.

“That’s not my primary role and I think everyone knows that,” Tate said. “I am very confident [in] what I bring to the table offensively. Not only scoring wise but seeing the floor and being able to make [a] decision in space. And that kind of helps me when they overlook the scouting report.”

“[I've] been running that play since I was [in] high school. At Ohio St. I ran that. Even when I was overseas, Will Weaver, that was a play he put in. To have that called tonight, it felt familiar and it’s one of my strengths. And playing in the mid-post area and getting to my left hand.”

Tate was excellent for the Rockets on both sides of the ball, as he had a 116.9 offensive and 108.5 defensive rating with an 82.5 percent in true shooting versus the Thunder. Hopefully, Tate can be the leading catalyst again, as the Rockets face the Orlando Magic and New Orleans Pelicans, which are winnable games. It should become a six-game winning streak, as John Wall might play if his condition is right.

Up next: The Rockets face the Orlando Magic on Friday night.

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