This was more like what most observers expected out of Wolves-Rockets. After a surprisingly close game one that ended in a three point Rockets win, this one was not close, as the home team exploded in the second quarter and cruised the rest of the way en route to a 102-82 win.
The Wolves were sharp to start this game, especially defensively, holding the Rockets to only 18 first quarter points, featuring some excellent pick-and-roll defense by Karl-Anthony Towns, Jeff Teague, and Jimmy Butler. It would have behooved them to take better advantage of it with their own offense, which struggled especially as the starters began rotating out. They turned it over uncharacteristically, and weren’t moving the ball effectively.
This was exacerbated in the second quarter, when Tom Thibodeau went to the Jamal Crawford-Derrick Rose combination, which proved disastrous. The defense began to fall apart under a hail of Gerald Green three-pointers, but the offense completely collapsed, with Rose and Crawford combining to go 1-9 in the first half. The three small lineup simply does not work with enough (or any) consistency to make it worthwhile. Rose’s forays to the basket were turned aside by the Rockets, while Crawford’s shimmies got him nowhere and led to midrange clanks.
It was a nightmare quarter for the Wolves, who saw the Rockets team that blew them off the floor in the regular season. Even while giving up 37 in the quarter, I didn’t think the defense was so terrible, it’s just that a) the Rockets are really good at offense, and b) the Wolves own offense was terrible.
Meanwhile, it seems clear that Jimmy Butler is not right. He lacked his pre-injury verve, and other than a brief stretch in the third quarter, was disturbingly inactive offensively. I don’t know if his knee is still bothering him or not, but something isn’t right with him.
At any rate, as we knew would happen, the Rockets eventually started making some of their threes, which spells doom for the Wolves. It started with Gerald Green getting hot in the second quarter, and eventually they would make 16 to the Wolves 5. That’s almost impossible to overcome.
The biggest Wolves story in this game, however, was Karl-Anthony Towns, who had his second ineffective game in a row in this series. Although I thought he played some admirable defense, and didn’t allow Clint Capela free access to the rim while also providing judicious help on drives to the basket, his offense, after two hoops to start the game, disappeared. Five points on 2-9 from the field, with all of his attempts coming in the first half. As he began missing shots, he became more and more desperate, and threw up some unusually poor attempts as he tried to get himself going. It didn’t work, and he sat down for good after his third quarter stint with only 24 minutes played.
He’s now combined for 13 points in two games, which is just a very good quarter for him in the normal course of things. Whether he’s tight, wanting to perform on a playoff stage, I don’t know. But he isn’t showing his usual smooth array, and it seems like it’s getting in his head. This is the playoff experience we all thought they needed, and games like this from their most important player are the downside.
Overall, the offense was the main culprit tonight, as the final score indicates. The Rockets really turned up the heat defensively, and the Wolves lack of ball and player movement resulted in some truly ugly possessions. Their bailout style of offense sometimes works due to their talent, but with Butler struggling, Teague in foul trouble, and KAT absent, it wasn’t going to work tonight.
The series heads to Minneapolis for the Wolves’ first home playoff games since 2004, with game three on Saturday. Let’s do a few notes:
- Nobody stood out for the Wolves tonight, though I thought Andrew Wiggins gave a decent effort in the first half.
- The Wolves got nothing off the bench until garbage time in the fourth quarter.
- James Harden shot 2-18, and the Rockets still blew the Wolves out.
- Instead it was Chris Paul’s night; he finished with 27 after struggling in game one.
- The Wolves once again held the Rockets to a manageable total of 102, and the Rockets only shot 36.5% from the field. It was the offense that let them down.
- Losing turnovers and rebounds turned a loss into a rout. The Wolves can barely keep up with the Rockets if they win those areas, if they lose them, they have no chance.
- Don’t be fooled by the apparent bench production in the box score. It was almost all in garbage time and meant nothing.