NBA PLAYOFFS

Fred Faour: 5 thoughts on the Rockets 104-101 win over the Timberwolves in Game 1

Chris Paul (left) was not good in Game 1. James Harden was. Houston Rockets/Facebook

The real season has started for the Rockets, and how they perform in the playoffs will determine how this team is remembered. The opening series against the Minnesota T Wolves will be a test, as Joel Blank writes, but one the Rockets should pass. They did in Game 1, but it was not easy. 

Here are five quick thoughts from the Rockets Game 1, 104-101 win over the Timberwolves.

1) Don't panic: Yes, the game was close and in doubt until the final seconds. The Rockets needed a huge effort from James Harden (44 points) to escape with a win. He came up big in the fourth quarter in particular. But the Rockets can play a lot better. The live by the 3, die by the 3 mentality almost killed them. They were a brutal 10 of 37 from behind the arc in Game 1. Harden was 7 of 12, making the rest of the team 3 of 25. That simply won't cut it. Expect a much better effort in Game 2. 

2) The Wolves can improve, too, but how much? Karl-Anthony Towns had just eight points and the Wolves seemed to ignore him in the paint. He should be much more involved going forward. But it's also hard to expect 16 points out of Derek Rose every night. Still, a nice, balanced game from the Wolves, who had every chance to steal Game 1. 

3) Chris Paul needs to be much better. He had just 14 points on 5 of 14 shooting, but most telling was a season high six turnovers, including two really bad ones late in the game when the Rockets should have closed it out. They will need more from him if they are to accomplish their goals and protecting the basketball late in games should be priority No. 1. 

4) Mismatch on the bench: The Rockets should have the advantage in depth, but they were outscored 38-16 by the Wolves bench in Game 1, part of the reason the Wolves hung around so long. 

5) Closing the door: Harden's big fourth-quarter effort got it done, but the Rockets tried their hardest to fail to close out the game. They gave up a free fast break after a missed free throw where everyone stood around, thinking there was another free throw to come. Paul's awful pass gave the Wolves a chance at a late-tying three. The game basically became a Harden one on one, run down the clock contest. That's fine if Harden is hitting his shots, and he was in Game 1. But they lose this game a lot of nights. The late-game questions will continue, especially if they blow a game like this.

The bottom line: Losing a Game 1 at home is never ideal, so the Rockets did well to escape. The Timberwolves came in having already essentially started the playoffs with a play-in game, while the Rockets have been coasting for weeks, so the signs all pointed to Minnesota throwing a scare into them. Having said that, Paul will be better in Game 2, Mike D'Antoni will make some adjustments that will hopefully lead to better 3-point shooting, the bench should be more competitive and the Rockets should improve as the series goes on. 

 

 

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The Astros will look to bounce back after a tough week. Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images.

After a 6-3 record to start the season, the Houston Astros had a tumultuous week to say the least. They were swept by the Tigers, lost 2 of 3 games to the Seattle Mariners and placed five players on the COVID injured list.

The Tigers' new manager AJ Hinch returned to Minute Maid Park for the first time since the Astros let him go after the cheating scandal in early 2020.

The Tigers swept the Astros and outscored them 20-8 over their three matchups.

Before the 3rd game of the series, the Astros found out they would be without five players on their active roster. Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, Martin Maldonado and Robel Garcia were all placed on the COVID-19 injury reserved list.

"It's hard on the team but you have to carry on. The show must go on," manager Dusty Baker said. "And it went on today with some younger players we have here."

Garrett Stubbs, Taylor Jones and Abraham Toro were called up as well as Alex De Goti and Ronnie Dawson who made their major league debuts last week.

The Tigers were able to score runs early on Zack Greinke, Lance McCullers and Jake Odorizzi (who made his Astros debut) and none of these starters lasted more than five innings in the outings.

Yuli Gurriel was the one Astros bright spot against the Tigers as he had 7 hits and drove in 2 runs. He is still continuing to hit the ball consistently as he finished the series with a .429 batting average.

After a 1-5 home stand the Astros looked to bounce back on the road against the division leading Seattle Mariners (you read that correctly).

Friday night proved to be the Astros' best offensive performance since their home opener on April 8th against the A's.

They scored five runs on Yusei Kikuchi through 7 innings behind good hitting from Aledmys Diaz, Chas McCormick and De Goti who drove in two runs on his first major league hit.

The Astros had a 5-2 lead at this point, but Seattle was able to score 4 unanswered to win the game.

Bryan Abreu, Blake Taylor and Ryne Stanek were credited with those four runs.

Ryan Pressly tried to clean up the bottom of the 9th inning after Stanek put the first two batters on base. His effort was unsuccessfully as Ty France hit a game-ending single that scored J.P. Crawford from second to secure a Mariners victory.

Saturday was the best game of the week for the Astros as they finally broke their six-game losing streak.

After failing to pitch more than five innings on Monday against the Tigers, Zack Greinke threw eight shutout innings with 91 pitches.

He struck out six batters and gave up only 4 hits.

"That's what aces do," Astros manager Dusty Baker said. "Guys like (Greinke) ... they stop the bleeding and we're about bled out."

Greinke finished the game with 2,705 career strikeouts. He is now third amongst active players in strikeouts behind Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander.

Ryan Pressly got some redemption too as he threw a perfect 9th inning giving him his first save of the year.

The Astros won this game 1-0 as Taylor Jones drove in the game's only run with an RBI single.

Sunday's game ended the Astros week with a whimper, as the Mariners bested Houston 7-2.

Jake Odorizzi got off to a good start, but he gave up three hits and was pulled after Mitch Haniger's fifth-inning triple made it a 3-2 lead over the Astros.

Odorizzi is now (0-2) with a 10.57 ERA after two starts with the Astros.

Houston's offensive woes continued Sunday, as Aledmys Díaz had their only hit, an RBI double in the second inning that fell in when outfielder José Marmolejos lost the ball in the sun.

"It's tough to take when you only got one hit and the one hit we got was lost in the sun," Baker said.

UP NEXT: The Astros (7-8) will finish their road trip with a two game series against the Rockies who have the worst record in the league (4-12) before starting an eight-game homestead.

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