Game 1 was the Timberwolves’ best shot to upset the Rockets. Too bad they don’t have James Harden (and Clint Capela).
Here’s everything that the Houston Rockets did wrong on Sunday:
- Five players combined to shoot 3-of-25 from behind the arc.
- Chris Paul had what was likely his worst game in a Rockets uniform, scoring 14 points on 14 shots with six turnovers to just four assists.
- One of Paul’s turnover was a pass thrown away in the closing seconds that gave the Minnesota Timberwolves one more chance at a game-tying three.
- The entire Rockets team, on one baffling possession, entirely forgot that the ball was live off a missed free throw.
- They even let Derrick Rose go off on them.
Here’s everything that the Rockets did right on Sunday: they had James Harden and Clint Capela.
That was enough. Houston took Game 1 with a 104-101 final score, a game that was absolutely begging for the Timberwolves to win. James Harden wouldn’t let that happen, though. The best scorer in the league had 44 points on Sunday, doing it on 15-of-26 shooting with eight assists, too. When he played like he did down the stretch, what can you do?
There really is no one like Harden, whose brilliance in all areas on the court makes guarding him the league’s most thankless job. As his teammate told me earlier this month:
“He’s crafty,” Tucker said. “He knows all the angles. He knows how to draw fouls. He can really shoot the ball. He can really dribble the ball. He can really pass the ball. AKA, he can do everything.”
Minnesota saw just that, a little bit of everything. Harden rained stepback three-pointers and dashed to the rim with gorgeous timing. He found shooters and rim runners all over the floor, even if his teammate’s shots weren’t always falling. It was certainly an MVP-level performance.
As Houston goes up one game to none in this opening series, there are two clear lessons that we can learn from each side.
The Timberwolves will probably be better
It’s unlikely that Minnesota will get 16 points from Derrick Rose the rest of the series, but they should find more scoring in other places. The most egregious stat of the night for the Timberwolves is this one: Rose’s 14 shots were more than both Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns attempted, indisputably the team’s two best players.
Towns’ game was especially underwhelming, and Clint Capela worked him early in the game. Capela finished with 24 points and 12 rebounds, though Towns’ defense on him improved as the game went on.
Minnesota needs Towns to be more assertive and stronger when carving out position in the post. Houston’s defense is a switching one, and Towns is fantastic when he gets the ball against a mismatch. His problem is getting the ball in the said situation, a problem that rests on both the passer and the post-up player.
We’ve been frustrated with the Timberwolves intermittently throughout this year, often for reasons like this. It definitely makes sense that Towns should get more shots and touches, and that Butler should run the offense more frequently. Can Minnesota actually implement that?
They must, because the Timberwolves have a problem, which is …
The Rockets will definitely be better
Houston’s shooters won’t go 3-of-25 on three-pointers like they did without Harden. Paul will be better, and he usually kills it in the postseason, despite a somewhat infamous reputation. The team might have Ryan Anderson back starting in Game 2. James Harden probably won’t average 44 points, but he can be this level of good all series, because he was this level of good all season.
In their four regular season matchups, the Rockets scored about 135 points per 100 possessions against Minnesota. I cannot express enough how ridiculous high that figure is, and even though Sunday’s game helped correct to the mean, we also should actually that the Timberwolves defense probably still has no chance against Houston.
Minnesota got their one golden chance, and they squandered it. As close as the game was, it just doesn’t seem like a competitive series is in the cards for these two teams, not if the Rockets start making shots. And despite a weird Game 1, it really did just feel like that was the only thing that was missing.