This game started out rather sloppily as both teams were in a rush to turn the ball over to each other. Ricky Rubio ended up with 8 turnovers, his most in a long time, and the Timberwolves finished with 21 turnovers to the Rockets' 16. The game was close throughout, although the Timberwolves second unit struggled in the first half with the pressure ball defense from the Rockets which led to bunches of fast break points against the Wolves. The second half remained tight and the backups played a bit better until losing focus in the 4th quarter at which point the starters came back in, although with Nemanja Bjelica for a while. Unfortunately, the Wolves weren't able to hold on and the Rockets kept on answering every basket that brought the Wolves within striking distance of a win.
While the Timberwolves played significantly better, I couldn't help but feel déjà vu towards the end of this game. The Wolves hang close through the fourth quarter and then run a bunch of isolation plays for Andrew Wiggins with mediocre success. Once the game is within three it's time to draw up a desperation heave from Kevin Martin to close out the game and they lose once again.
The turnovers were the real killer during this game, especially in the first half. Its easy to point to Ricky and his 8 turnovers but the Wolves would have been completely out of this game without him and his 9 points, 12 assists, and 4 steals. He had one backbreaking illegal pick that wiped away a Kevin Martin 3 to tie the game near the end of the fourth quarter. The pick likely wasn't necessary for Martin to get the shot off and then when Jason Terry hit a 3 on the other end in the next possession it seemed the Wolves were destined for another loss. But yet, as Ricky often does, he finished a team best +14 on the night.
The Houston Rocket's stars had their usual stellar games. James Harden didn't shoot very well from beyond the arc, only 2-10 on the night, but still finished with 27 points along with 11 assists. Dwight Howard has recently had a mini-resurgence during this Rockets win streak and he had another double-double with 15 points and 10 boards. There was a fun old-school Dwight moment where he was a bit pissed after his technical foul and he went right at Gorgui Dieng, drew the foul, spun around him, and then dunked it over Bjelica.
The Rockets as a whole shot really poorly from the three-point line tonight, finishing 7-30 which is likely what kept the Wolves in the game. Ty Lawson made a few plays that reminded you how good he used to be and Terrence Jones gave the Rockets some good play off the bench to the tune of 16 points and 9 boards. Corey Brewer was a fun sparkplug, although I don't know how the Wolves were unaware he was going to leak out every play as he got a ton of fast break points in the second quarter.
On the Timberwolves front it was a rather mixed bag tonight. Shabazz Muhammad had a poor showing after a string of strong games and it seemed like he was really forcing things, which lead to a few turnovers on his part. Zach LaVine also had a rough game and committed several unforced turnovers. At one point he also decided it would be a good idea to go right at Dwight, which did not go well at all.
The Wolves' foundation pieces, Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, had nice games. Towns had a great no hesitation three in the beginning of the game when he was sharing the floor with Pekovic and it was fun to see him more perimeter-oriented with another true big out there. Wiggins started slow, seemingly per usual, but really started attacking the basket in the third quarter and had a lot of nice drives. I might be incorrect about this, but I feel like I can tell every single time when Wiggins' pull-up jumper is going in. He seems to rise a lot smoother and jumps straight up rather than off-balance. Towns ended up with 12 points and 16 rebounds and Wiggins had 28 points while shooting really well from areas he usually struggles from, 2-3 on three-pointers and 8-9 from the line.
What I did like about the game was a period during the 4th quarter with Rubio, Wiggins, Martin, Bjelica, and Towns that featured crisp ball movement and lead to several open buckets. Having the additional three point-shooting with Bjelica and Martin on the floor just opens everything up and gives us a glimpse of what a future Timberwolves team could look like with a more modern offense. I also counted two Bjelica no hesitation three-point pulls! After his confidence slump that's great to see.
Overall it didn't seem like we learned anything new about the Wolves this game. While they kept it close throughout and looked vastly better than some of the losses during this stretch, several of the Wolves problems persisted throughout with turnovers, bad transition defense, and poor second-unit play. But at least we scored more than 100 points! And somehow made more threes than the other team with the Wolves at 8-17 and the Rockets at 7-30! You can't tell me thats unsustainable.
Anyways, on to the next one.