The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets snap four-game losing streak with win over Timberwolves in Houston 117-111
If the NBA had a dictionary for overused terms, a picture of this Rockets boxscore would fall under "must-win". There was no universe in which the Rockets could lose this game and then go into the Staples Center with any chance of competing. They just wouldn't have the confidence to be able to do anything against one of the league's premier title contenders.
So it was good for Houston that James Harden remembered he was James Harden and absolutely dominated in the way we've all become accustomed to him doing. Harden's slump was indicative of the team's brief identity problem. It's not that the team didn't have an identity, it's that they forgot what it was for four games. The Rockets have settled into the fact that they aren't going to win games on the defensive glass or playing with size. They're identity is switching everything effectively on defense, driving and kicking to open shooters all around the floor, and generating transition offense to make up for what's not present in the middle.
Eric Gordon's return was huge tonight as an emotional boost for Houston. Gordon only scored 16 points on 15 field goal attempts, but his aggressiveness to take open three-pointers and drive to the rim, both in the halfcourt and in transition, is exactly what the Rockets needed.
Tonight, Houston displayed that with their three-point shooting finally settling into place (15-38 or 39.5% from downtown) and forcing 18 Minnesota turnovers. For Houston to try and get a top-three seed to close the season, they have to recognize that this is what they are and not deviate from it. This means they can't hesitate from three-point range like they've been prone to the past week or settle into half-court rock fight with opponents. They have to play like the Rockets.
Star of the game: For the first time in a very long time, James Harden looked like James Harden. Harden logged 37 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 block on 11 of 19 shooting from the field, 5 of 10 shooting from three-point range, and 10 of 14 shooting from the free throw line. He looked confident, his body language was as good as it's ever been, he was engaged on both ends of the floor, and his shots finally started to fall. He looked like the perennial MVP candidate the Rockets have touted out there for the past three seasons.
Honorable mention: Although Harden was clearly the better player, Russell Westbrook was also very good for Houston tonight. Westbrook tallied 27 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, and 4 steals on 11 of 17 shooting from the field and 5 of 6 shooting from three-point range. His energy was much needed when the Rockets were trying to finally take a lead over the Timberwolves in the third quarter and eventually was able to lead Houston over the finish line in the final two minutes.
Key moment: The key moment for Houston was clearly the final 3:06 where Houston went on a 14-3 run to take the lead over Minnesota and shift the momentum back in their favor. Russell Westbrook scored or assisted on 10 of the 14 final points, including the Austin Rivers three-pointer that ended up giving Houston the lead. It honestly felt like the Rockets had been woken up from a four-game slumber.
Up next: The Rockets travel to Los Angeles at 9:30 p.m. on Thursday to take on the Lakers.