The Houston Rockets shook off a slow start in Game 2 to blow out the Minnesota Timberwolves and take a 2-0 series lead.
The Houston Rockets struggled in their Game 1 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves, and the top seed in the league didn’t inspire much confidence in the early stages of Game 2. The Rockets shrugged off the sluggish start, though, and ran away from the Timberwolves in a 102-82 victory that has them up 2-0 in the series.
After shooting 10 of 37 on 3-pointers in Game 1, Houston shot 20 percent overall and on 3-pointers in an ugly first quarter that saw them go down by as many as nine points. But the Rockets completely flipped the script with a dominant 37-17 second quarter that rendered the second half meaningless. Minnesota didn’t get closer than 15 points the rest of the way, with things getting really ugly in the fourth quarter.
After James Harden bailed out Houston in Game 1 with 44 points, this time it was Chris Paul who led the way. Paul bounced back from a disastrous Game 1 performance, going for 27 points and eight assists while shooting 10 of 18 from the field. The second half became his personal playground:
The Rockets won going away despite Harden suffering through an awful shooting night. The MVP front-runner scored only 12 points and made two of his 18 field goal attempts, but it didn’t matter because of Paul’s dominance, Gerald Green’s production off the bench (21 points, plus-27) and Minnesota’s incompetence.
The Wolves shot 38.8 percent from the field and made only five 3-pointers. They turned the ball over 16 times. It was an all-around brutal performance that got embarrassing in the second half as Houston ran it down Minnesota’s throat.
The Rockets can still be much better. It feels crazy to say a team can be a lot better after winning a game so easily. However, in this case it’s true. The Rockets have played stellar defense and have done a good job limiting turnovers, but they haven’t played close to a complete game yet in these playoffs.
Harden and Paul haven’t clicked at the same time. Houston still shot only 36.5 percent in Game 2 and 16 of 52 from long range. Eric Gordon hasn’t found his shooting stroke and is just 3 of 17 from 3 in the series. The Rockets should be happy to be up 2-0, but they know they have a higher ceiling than what they’ve shown.
The Wolves blew an early opportunity. The Wolves got off to a strong start. Their defensive energy was excellent, and they bottled up Harden in the pick-and-roll, leading to missed shots and turnovers. Minnesota led 18-12 when Karl-Anthony Towns and Jimmy Butler went to the bench with just under five minutes to go in the first quarter, and that lead went to 20-12 seconds later.
With the Rockets’ offense in a funk, the Wolves had a chance to create even more separation. But Minnesota struggled to keep the offense going. Poor shot selection from Andrew Wiggins, Jamal Crawford and Gorgui Dieng marred the rest of the quarter as the Wolves managed only three points in the final 4:39 of the opening frame.
Then the second quarter was a disaster. Tom Thibodeau went with his smaller lineup of Derrick Rose, Jeff Teague, Crawford, Butler and Towns, and they got run off the floor. Paul sliced and diced his way into the lane with ease, leading to good looks all over the court. Houston finally started to hit some 3-pointers to blow the game wide open.
The Rockets may have turned the game around anyway, but perhaps things play out differently if the Wolves’ offense doesn’t go in the tank at the end of the first quarter. Minnesota had Houston on the ropes but couldn’t capitalize.
This series is likely over, but the Wolves need more from their stars to have a chance. Much was made of Towns’ awful Game 1, and he was a bit more aggressive in Game 2. He took nine shots in 24 minutes on Wednesday after taking the same amount of shots in 40 minutes of Game 1. Unfortunately, KAT made just two shots in Game 2 and finished with five points. Only four of his attempts came in the paint as he fired up some questionable shots.
Butler was also relatively quiet again. Butler had 13 points on 4-of-11 shooting in Game 1, and he followed that up with 11 points on 3-of-6 shooting in Game 2. The All-Star is dealing with a variety of ailments, but the Wolves need him to be more aggressive looking for his shot.
Minnesota didn’t stand much of a chance in this series no matter what, but Towns and Butler have to be a lot better for them to be competitive at all.