The Houston Roundball Review is an online basketball publication by: Kris Gardner, United States Basketball Writers Association member. Credentialed media member since 1997. USBWA approved online journalist. Voter of Lowe's Senior CLASS, Naismith, USBWA, and Wooden awards.
Harden's 44 points helps Rockets edge Timberwolves in Game 1
Posted: April 15, 2018 -- 11:51 pm CDT.
HOUSTON, TX (Toyota Center) -- James Harden was the best player on the basketball court. Again. Harden scored 44 points in the Houston Rockets 104-101 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves in Game 1 of the best-of-7 first round playoff series. Harden scored 13 of the Rockets' final 17 points (and assisted on two of the remaining 4 points) as the Rockets held off the Timberwolves.
"Another day for James (Harden), he’s done it all year; and, he really stepped up," said Rockets Head Coach Mike D'Antoni after the game. "We were struggling to make shots, struggling to really have any kind of rhythm of play and James put us on his back and he’s been doing it for a while now."
"James (Harden) is that type of player and we’ve seen it all year, very difficult to guard," said Tom Thibodeau, Minnesota Timberwolves Head Coach after the game. "Basically, you have to guard him with your whole team. It’s not just his scoring, but his playmaking and all the things that he does."
Harden was one of the first Rockets players who made the majority of his shots Sunday night. Harden made 15 of his 26 field goal attempts -- including 7 for 12 on three-point shots. The rest of the Rockets made only 3 of 25 three-pointers.
"Honestly, I just try to be aggressive and make the right play," James Harden said. "Things got slowed up a little bit, just try to be aggressive with my shot, and fortunately it went in."
Houston won despite shooting 27.0% (10 for 37) from 3-point range. The Rockets were 16-12 when shooting 33.3% or worse from downtown during the regular season.
The Rockets also lost the rebounding battle 47-37. The Rockets were only outrebounded by 10 or more rebounds six times in 2017-18; however, the Rockets were 4-2 in those games.
Houston jumped to a 17-6 lead; and, Rockets big man Clint Capela scored 10 of the 17 points. Capela was everywhere in the first half. Capela scored 20 points (10 points in each quarter); pulled down 10 rebounds; and blocked 2 shots in the first half. Capela dominated Minnesota big man Karl Anthony Towns in the half. Towns scored only 3 points on 1 for 5 field goal shooting while Capela made 8 of his 11 field goal attempts. Capela outrebounded Towns 10-5 in the first half.
After the 17-6 lead, Minnesota time the game at 21; but, in the final 46.3 seconds of the first quarter, Chris Paul split two free throws; made a three-point shot; and assisted on a layup by Nene as the Rockets led 27-21 after the first period.
Minnesota tied the game at 38 in the second quarter; but, Capela and Harden each scored 6 points during a 12-2 Rockets run. Harden's 6 points came from back-to-back step back three-point baskets.
The Rockets led 54-47 at halftime. Capela and Harden combined for 39 of the Rockets' 54 points.
The Timberwolves scored the first nine points in the third quarter to lead 56-54 with 9:27 on the game clock.
Houston's P.J. Tucker made a three-point shot for 57-56 lead; however, Minnesota outscored Houston 9-5 for a 65-62 lead.
Harden converted a four-point play for a 66-65 lead.
Next, Harden tied the game at 70 with a driving dunk. Then, Harden made a three-point shot before scoring a layup on a strong drive to the hoop; and, he was fouled.
Harden made the free throw to complete the three-point play and give the Rockets a 76-72 lead after three quarters.
Eric Gordon sank a three-pointer to stretch the Rockets' lead to 7 points (79-72); but, the T-wolves answered with a 13-6 run to tie the game at 85 with 6:49 remaining.
Houston trailed 86-85 after Jamal Crawford made two free throws. Then, Eric Gordon scored a 9-foot turnaround jump shot which put the Rockets ahead 87-86 with 6:31 on the game clock.
Harden scored the Rockets next 10 points during a blistering scoring clinic in slightly less than 3 minutes of game action.
The Rockets led 102-95 with 90 seconds on the clock; but, Minnesota's Andrew Wiggins scored on a dunk and point guard Jeff Teague made two free throws to trim the Rockets' lead to three (102-99) with 26.3 seconds remaining.
Teague fouled Chris Paul and Paul made both free throws.
Minnesota called timeout to set up a play. Minnesota guard Jimmy Butler missed a floater; but, Karl Anthony Towns tipped in the miss. Houston led 104-101 with 14.9 seconds on the clock.
Chris Paul received the inbounds pass. Minnesota did not foul quickly; and, instead double-teamed Paul. Paul threw bad pass into the front court which bounced out of bounds with 8.7 seconds left.
Without a timeout, Minnesota raced the ball up the court. Butler took a bad shot -- a 21-foot jumper -- and missed. The long carom bounced off Andrew Wiggins for a turnover with 0.3 seconds remaining.
The Rockets inbounded the ball to seal the win.
Chris Paul scored 14 points in the game; however, Paul had more turnovers (6) than made baskets (5). Paul shot 5 for 14 from the floor and just 1 for 6 from three-point range.
"I think the worst thing is the turnovers; look like I was with the ‘Bad News Bears’," Chris Paul acknowledged. "At the end of the day, it’s all about getting the win."
P.J. Tucker echoed Paul's words, "In the playoffs, it don't matter how you. It's that you win."
Trevor Ariza agreed with his teammates.
"We got a win, that’s the important thing," Ariza said. "It wasn’t our prettiest game, but it doesn’t matter as long as we got a win at the end of the day."