NBA PLAYOFFS

Rockets-Wolves Game 2 recap: Houston rolls 102-82 despite terrible night from Harden

Rockets-Wolves Game 2 recap: Houston rolls 102-82 despite terrible night from Harden
James Harden could not buy a basket in Game 2, yet the Rockets rolled on. Rockets.com

James Harden shot 2 of 18, Houston shot below 37% as a team, and the Rockets dismantled the Minnesota Timberwolves 102-82 to seize a commanding 2-0 lead in their round one playoff matchup.

The Rockets knew that in order to avoid another close call like Game 1 everyone would need to contribute alongside Harden. Planning, however, is different from execution, and Houston stumbled drastically out of the gate. Starting forward P.J. Tucker found himself in foul trouble early in the quarter, forcing him to sit in exchange for Gerald Green. The Rockets shot an abysmal 5-of-25 in the quarter, including a 2-of-9 three-point range effort. Harden’s performance was somehow even more worrisome, as he was 1-of-7 for the quarter. The Timberwolves pounded the inside and showed a relentless tenacity throughout the quarter, while shooting 9-of-23 as a team. What was most alarming was that it wasn’t Minnesota’s defense that was stifling the Rockets, it was simply awful shooting.

In a rare sub 20-point first quarter showing for the Rockets, it seemed like there was a justifiable cause for concern for the No. 1 seed. That was when the Houston team that posted 65 wins in the regular season showed up. Led by Green and Chris Paul, the Rockets went on a quarter-long rampage, out scoring the suddenly ice-cold Timberwolves 37-17. Harden remained in his slump, and stretched his cold streak to 1-of-12 before heading to the locker room. At the same time, Green had racked up 12 points in 14 minutes, on 4-of-7 from 3-point range.

Houston cruised to a victory from that point on, despite Harden’s individual shooting struggles. Eric Gordon continued his slow playoff start, shooting 3-of-13 for 9 points; however Paul and Green picked up the slack, contributing 27 and 21 points respectively.

The same could not be said for the Timberwolves, who were expecting a bounce back game from star center Karl Anthony-Towns after scoring only 8 points in game one. Towns fired out of the gate in Game 2, scoring 5 points in the first 6 minutes. Bizarrely enough, that would turn out to be the only points he would contribute. After an incredible collective first quarter, the Timberwolves went ice cold from the field. Forward Nemanja Bjelica led the team with 16 points, and was one of only three Timberwolves that scored in double digits.

Takeaways

This is not another Rockets playoff team of old.

Game 1 looked very reminiscent of the frustrating playoff Rockets we’ve all come to know; that being a one-dimensional offense where everyone on the team fades under the lights and Harden is forced to play hero-ball for 48 minutes. If Harden had performed like he did in Game 2 on any previous Rockets playoff team, the foregone conclusion would be that they lost. Instead, we watched as Paul and Green assumed command of the offense and soundly eviscerated a porous Minnesota defense. This comes on the heels of a 24 point performance from Clint Capela as well. In two games the Rockets have proven that they no longer live by the Harden and die by the Harden. And just wait until Gordon heats up and Ryan Anderson and Luc Mbah a Moute return.

The Timberwolves proved how perfect they need to play to win.

Minnesota showcased an aggressive penetrating offense in the first quarter, with driving layups and sharp shooting from mid range. They also succeeded in forcing Tucker into foul trouble, while holding the Rockets to 20% shooting from the field as a team. This was their opening haymaker, and it was a blow that still only secured a 5-point lead heading into the second quarter. If that was the best that Minnesota has to throw at Houston, the Rockets should wrap this series up on the road without issue.

Clint Capela has arrived

How do you follow up a 24 point, 12 rebound, 3 block performance against one of the elite big men in the game? Follow it up with an 8 point, 16 rebound game and force Towns to sit for all but 4 minutes in the second half due to his ineffectiveness. Capela has been a quiet force all season, overshadowed by a Hall of Fame point guard and a presumptive regular season MVP. The playoffs, however, are where basketball gets gritty and you need an inside presence to stay afloat. National broadcasters are going to talk about Capela like he’s just now performing at an All-Star level, but the truth is that he’s been doing it all season.

 

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CJ Stroud and Will Anderson Jr both made the list. Composite Getty Image.

Coming off a surprising playoff run with a rookie quarterback in 2023, expectations couldn't be higher for the Houston Texans heading into 2024.

CBS Sports' Pete Prisco recently put his 2024 NFL Top 100 players list together, which includes six Texans players. Here's how Prisco has them ranked, and his outlook for the season.

No. 99 Edge Rusher Will Anderson Jr.

Just squeezing in the Top 100 is the Defensive Rookie of the Year, Will Anderson. “He was the Defensive Rookie of the Year after getting seven sacks. But he was much more than those sack numbers and his talent shows a player who can take a big jump to 12-15 sacks this season,” said Prisco.

No. 80 Cornerback Derek Stingley Jr.

Next on the list is ballhawking corner Derek Stingley Jr. Prisco weighed in on Houston's standout defensive back. “After a disappointing 2022 rookie season, he flashed star potential last year for the Texans. He is a long corner who is capable of matching up in coverage with the game's best receivers.”

No. 77 Wide Receiver Nico Collins

This is where we see the first offensive player makes the list. Prisco shares his thoughts on Houston's top pass catcher. “After having 70 catches in his first two seasons, he had his breakout season in 2023 with 80 catches and a 16.2 yard-per-catch average. He is truly a big-play threat who should continue to grow with quarterback C.J. Stroud.”

No. 57 Left Tackle Laremy Tunsil

Prisco adds another offensive player to his list here. “He is one of the best in the league in pass protection, which is great news for C.J. Stroud. His ability to hold up in one-on-one situations is key to their offense,” said Prisco.

No. 38 Quarterback CJ Stroud

Can Stroud deliver an impressive sophomore season? “He was special as a rookie, leading the Texans to the playoffs. Now comes the hard part: Doing it again. I don't think that will be a problem because he has the look of being a star for a long time,” said Prisco.

No. 35 Danielle Hunter

The final player to make the list is the Texans' prized offseason addition. “He had 16 1/2 sacks for the Vikings last season, continuing to be a force off the edge. In Houston, he will team with Will Anderson Jr. to give the Texans a nice duo of pass rushers,” Prisco said.

One glaring omission is Texans superstar receiver Stefon Diggs. Diggs had a down year in 2023 based on his standards. But don't be surprised if Diggs makes this list next year after a bounce back season with Stroud pulling the trigger at QB. And he'll be highly motivated, with the possibility of another mega-contract in sight.


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