We were reminded in tonight’s 116-98 loss to the Houston Rockets that the Rockets are now 31-12 for a reason. That reason is they are a very good basketball team that puts immense pressure on opponents with their relentless style.
With the game tied at 17 in the first quarter, and the Wolves showing nice defensive resolve early against the likes of James Harden and Chris Paul...here comes Eric Gordon, who scored nine points in the span of roughly 2 and a half seconds, and just like that the Rockets were up by nine, and they would never relinquish the lead.
The Wolves got back into it in the second quarter thanks to some good play from Tyus Jones and Nemanja Bjelica, but another late quarter run by the Rockets saw them take a 13 point lead into half time.
Again, the Wolves made something of a push in the third quarter, but the Rockets are so explosive that a close game balloons into double-digits in the blink of an eye. You think you’re making a run, but a couple of threes later, and you’ve been stifled.
The Wolves focused on limiting James Harden, and were successful in that endeavor, holding him to 10 points on 3-15 shooting. But the Rockets just have so many weapons. Tonight it was Eric Gordon, who went for 30 on 11-9, including seven threes. The Rockets also hurt the Wolves in the pick and roll, with Clint Capela and Nene combining for 32 points, many of them against a defense desperate to stop dangerous ball-handlers. Perhaps the killer however was giving up 11 offensive rebounds and forcing only nine turnovers. The Wolves actually lost the turnover battle tonight, something they rarely do, and something they can’t overcome against a team this good.
One thing that has become noticeable in recent games is how vital Karl-Anthony Towns is to the team’s success. As soon as he checked out in the first quarter, the Wolves lost all semblance of an offensive threat, and were unable to take advantage of a slow Rockets start. Eventually, Gordon got hot, and things went downhill from there. Towns was a +5 on the night despite a horrid shooting performance from beyond the arc (1-7.) No other starter was better than a -10. Part of this was getting minutes next to someone other than Jeff Teague, who had a nightmare of a no-show ball game, while Tyus Jones was one of the few Wolves to show some spark while also finding his three point stroke. Still, the drop-off when Towns sits is glaring.
Overall, it was a lesson in how far this team still has to go. They are much improved, but they are not at the level of the elite teams in the NBA, which is not surprising, nor is it really news, but we were harshly reminded tonight. Once the Rockets took control of the game, they never let it go, and even when the Wolves made the occasional push, it always felt like they would find an open shot or two that would end a run.
This is where the schedule gets tough. The Wolves are home to an excellent Raptors team Saturday, and will be desperate to avoid a three game losing streak.
- The Wolves were outscored by 27 points behind the arc tonight. That’s what Houston does, and the Wolves offense is generally excellent. That doesn’t mean they couldn’t use more three point shooting.
- Goose-egg for Jamal Crawford, who went 0-6 tonight.
- Bjelica was a lot more involved, for better and worse, than he often is. Had several nice passes and good plays in his first stint, not so much in his second, very short one. He gets very little rope from Thibs, perhaps deservedly, though it was not really Taj’s night either.
- Watching, the rebounding felt like a huge problem, but forcing the Rockets into only 10 turnovers was perhaps a bigger one. The Wolves rely on turnover differential, but it didn’t happen tonight.