I did not expect this. In truth, at halftime I was already constructing an opening paragraph for this recap about how the Rockets continue to get anything they want against the Wolves, and how poor a match up it is for them.
The first half was everything that scares us about the Rockets—getting beaten down the floor, wide open threes, Harden drives, Capela dunks. Everything looked way too easy for them, and the Wolves were putting up little resistance. They were also awkward offensively, taking too many mid-range jumpers, not moving the ball, and generally looking overwhelmed.
And then the second half happened. Down 14 at halftime (and that only due to a 40 foot Andrew Wiggins buzzer beater,) the Wolves absolutely shackled the Rockets over the final two quarters, outscoring them 55-29, and holding them to nine fourth quarter points. While the Rockets missed their fair share of open ones, the Wolves did a tremendous job of taking away the easy dunks off pick and rolls that were there in the first half, did a much better job of sticking with ball handlers, executing switches, and closing out on shooters. They also forced a bunch of second half turnovers thanks to quick hands and anticipation. They once again were in double-digit steals with 11 on the game.
This was a terrific team effort, with six guys in double-figures and everyone who played making good contributions. As an example, Jeff Teague, who we wrote about earlier today, was once again dribbling with little purpose and turning down shots early. Finally, he took and made two threes that tied the game in the third quarter without hesitation. Andrew Wiggins had one of his better all around efforts of the season, highlighted by three blocked shots that I thought were terrific and hugely valuable.
Robert Covington had what I thought was his worst defensive half as a Wolf in the first half, getting beat on cuts several times, more than redeemed himself in the second. He wound up credited with two steals and two blocks along with his 13 points, six boards and three assists, but in one remarkable stretch he tied up Chris Paul and won the ensuing jump ball, then tied up Clint Capela and won that jump ball too. His three pointer gave the Wolves their first double digit lead midway through the fourth quarter, and they were never seriously challenged again.
One of the things the Wolves did effectively in the second half was stay with ball-handlers, which let help defenders get in position to force turnovers, as opposed to scrambling to cover up. But when screens did come, the Wolves were effective in sagging and recovering, and not giving up the easy ones that have so plagued them. At halftime, James Harden had 22 points, and Capela 16. They finished with 29 and 22 respectively.
This was a sneakily important game for the Wolves, coming off that loss to Boston. The schedule has been favorable since the trade, but a loss tonight would have put them two games under .500 and given them a losing streak they really couldn’t afford. After they play Charlotte on Wednesday at home, ten of their next 13 are on the road, so they really could not afford a slump. This was a tremendous effort against a talented team who looked like they had the Wolves beat. It would have been absolutely no surprise had they not come back like they did, but seeing them get so stuck in during the second half was one of the most enjoyable stretches of the season.
The Wolves are once again back at .500. They will look to get over that mark on Wednesday, but in the meantime let’s enjoy this one. John will have his nightcap with everything from the winning locker room later.
Wow. What a ball game.