GAME 4 RECAP

Rockets use ridiculous third quarter to rout Wolves, lead series 3-1

Rockets use ridiculous third quarter to rout Wolves, lead series 3-1
Karl Anthony Towns had a nice state line, but... Tim Warner/Getty Images

After scraping out a one-point lead at halftime, the Rockets left Houston fans with plenty of cause for concern. A 50 point third quarter would calm most of those fears, however, as Houston cruised to a 119-100 victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

A lethargic Rockets tipped off against the Timberwolves and Minnesota kept pace by efficiently attacking the inside. Minnesota Guard Derrick Rose continued to turn back the clock on Houston, and shades of the former MVP could be seen as he effortlessly sliced through the lane.

More concerning was the Rockets overall shooting to start the first half. James Harden seemed to be continuing his cold streak from game 3, as he started the game 1-8 from the field. The team as a whole struggled with the exception of Trevor Ariza, who kept the Rockets competitive with 13 first half points.

The third quarter, however, was a completely different story. The Rockets shifted into a completely different gear and torched the Timberwolves with a 50-20 point third quarter. Leading the charge was Harden with 22 points, followed by Paul with 15 points each in the quarter alone. The onslaught would predictably prove to be too much for the Timberwolves to overcome and the Rockets left Target Center with a 3-1 series lead heading back to Houston on Monday.

Takeaways:

1) Karl Anthony-Towns is a non factor.

Don’t let the box score fool you. Towns finished with 22 points, sure. Most of those points, however, were in garbage time when the Rockets had long ago checked out of the game mentally. The biggest whiff I’ve made in discussing this series so far has been my assumption that Towns would be force, and he has been anything but. Meanwhile Clint Capela walked off the court with a 14 point, 17 rebound, 4 block night.

2) The defense was the real story.

Most people are going to focus on the offensive explosion in this game, but it wouldn’t have happened without an equally impressive defensive showing from the entire team. Houston won the turnover battle 7-17, with Clint Capela swatting 4 shots, and Harden and Paul accounting for 5 and 4 steals respectively. The Rockets played chippy playoff basketball and it worked.

3) The Rockets need to stay focused.

This entire series has been about the Rockets’ intensity and ability to maintain it throughout four quarters. Houston punched their playoff ticket so early that people speculated whether they would be able to turn it on or be caught napping. Game three they were caught napping and were run out of the building, albeit by a timberwolves team that shot almost 60% from behind the arc. After building a 35 point lead, more signs of the same were present, as a relaxed Rockets’ squad allowed Minnesota to trim the lead down to 20. Look, I understand that criticizing a team that was still leading by 20 points sounds ridiculous, but this Rockets season probably won't be considered a success unless they hoist a trophy in early June. A championship team needs to focus on maintaining its intensity throughout the game. Houston could have easily won this game by 40 or more if they had.

 

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Coogs beat the Sooners, 87-85. Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images.

Jamal Shead hit a short follow shot with 0.4 seconds left and No. 1 Houston beat Oklahoma 87-85 on Saturday night, giving coach Kelvin Sampson a victory over one of his former schools.

Shead missed a driving layup attempt, but corralled the rebound and put the Cougars back ahead after they blew a 15-point lead. Emanuel Sharp tipped away a desperation pass by Oklahoma’s Milos Uzan as time expired.

“The main thing (on the last shot) was to get it to the rim,” Sampson said. “We weren’t going to shoot anything outside of 5 feet. There were three ways to win that game — a whistle, make the shot or (grab) an offensive rebound and put it in — and we got the third one.”

Sampson credited the result to Houston’s “winning DNA. We had a lot of things go against us tonight. … We were just plugging the holes in the boat up.”

L.J. Cryer led Houston (26-3, 13-3 Big 12) with 23 points, making 5 of 9 3-pointers. J’Wan Roberts added 20 points on 10-of-12 shooting, and Shead scored 14 points. Houston shot 56.7% from the field and Oklahoma was at 52.7%.

Rivaldo Soares had 16 points for Oklahoma (19-10, 7-9). Le’Tre Darthard had 15 points, finishing 5 of 7 from 3-point range.

Sampson coached Oklahoma from 1994 to 2006 and ranks second in program history with 279 wins and first in winning percentage (.719). Before Saturday, he’d never coached against the Sooners, but Houston’s entry into the Big 12 for this basketball season provided that opportunity.

Sampson received a warm welcome as he entered the Lloyd Noble Arena court, with many fans applauding, cheering and standing. Just before player introductions, Sampson and his three assistants with Oklahoma ties — former players Hollis Price, Quannas White and Kellen Sampson, his son — were individually recognized with announcements and pictured on the video board.

“The memories that I will take from here are just amazing,” Kelvin Sampson said. “Oklahoma will always be home in a lot of ways.”

Houston made its first week this season at No. 1 a successful one, with two wins. The Cougars are a game ahead of No. 8 Iowa State in the conference standings with two games left in the regular season and remain in the conversation for the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Houston has won eight of the last nine games it has played as the No. 1-ranked team and is 35-5 overall while atop the AP poll.

Oklahoma dropped its second game of the week against a top-10 opponent, having lost 58-45 at Iowa State on Wednesday night.

The Sooners pushed Houston to the limit. Houston led 67-52 with 12:01 left, but the Sooners methodically closed that gap and Javian McCollum’s layup with 11.8 seconds left tied it at 85. It came after a hustle play by Uzan, who tracked down a rebound off a missed free throw and threw it off the leg of Sharp, allowing it to carom out of bounds.

Oklahoma coach Porter Moser said the vibe in the Sooners’ locker room was “tough. It wasn’t like they were happy to be close. They’re hurting. That’s a good sign. … That’s the elite of the elite and we’ve got to find a way to win that. That’s my job.

“I thought they were resilient battling back. Houston made tough shots, open shots, good shots. They do a lot of good things … but I thought we did too. We played the best team in the country, but we fell short. The margin of error when you play a team that good is small.”

Godwin went 6 of 6 from the field and led Oklahoma with 17 points, missing only the one free throw in six attempts as well. He also had seven rebounds.

BIG PICTURE

Houston: Sampson surely appreciated the warm welcome from fans on his return to Oklahoma, but he’s undoubtedly glad to have the emotional game against the Sooners over with. Now he can push the Cougars to focus on finishing the regular season strong and prepare them for the postseason.

Oklahoma: A win over the nation’s No. 1 team might have pushed the Sooners up a line or two in NCAA tournament seeding, but the loss shouldn’t damage their postseason hopes too much. Oklahoma probably needs at least one win next week — at home against Cincinnati or at Texas — to stay comfortably off the NCAA bubble heading into the Big 12 Tournament.

UP NEXT:

Houston: At Central Florida on Wednesday night.

Oklahoma: Host Cincinnati on Tuesday night.

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