Wolves at Rockets, Game Five
8:30 pm CST
Through three games of the Timberwolves’ long awaited dabble in post-season play, there was plenty of reason for optimism. Despite drawing the first-seeded, 66 win Houston Rockets in a series that was expected to be less than competitive, the Wolves were on their way to flipping that narrative. After the Rockets held on to win a tightly contested game one and ran away with game two in Houston, the Wolves put their foot down to take an electric game three at Target center. They outscored their Texas counterpart in seven of the series’ first 12 quarters while holding the NBA’s top offense to 103.7 points per game. Boisterous chants of “Wolves in six” warmed the streets of downtown Minneapolis faster than any belated spring could.
And though the two teams were virtually tied (49-50) after halftime of a pivotal game four, there was an inevitability to what happened in that dreaded third quarter. Mike D’Antoni’s Rockets trusted the process, trusted their stars, trusted the arithmetic and ran the Wolves out of their own building, piling up a staggering 50 points in twelve minutes of action.
“We came out [of halftime] lackadaisical on both ends of the floor,” Wolves forward Jimmy Butler told reporters after the game. “We didn’t take anything away from them, they got whatever shot that the wanted, whether it be a three, layup, free-throw line. Whatever happened, they scored 50 points in a quarter.”
Such a let-down was also felt by a sellout crowd at Target Center. After a competitive first half inspired the rowdy pack to unleash choruses of “Harden Sucks,” the presumed MVP erupted for 22 third quarter points, more than quieting his detractors.
“I think it is disappointing that we didn’t give our fans what they wanted to see,” Karl-Anthony Towns explained following the loss, “they brought the energy tonight. We didn’t bring as much energy as we needed to pull off this one tonight.”
With 36 points in all, James Harden vaulted to third in scoring across the 2018 playoff picture; he’s averaging 30.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 6.3 assists on .418/.39/.853 shooting splits. While those numbers don’t quite live up to his MVP regular season performance, he’s been brilliant nonetheless. And though his sidekick, Chris Paul, has battled spouts of inconsistency, his numbers speak for themselves as well. The 13-year veteran is putting up 20.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 6 assists on .517/.421/.927 from the floor.
For the Wolves, Towns has been consistently inconsistent through his first four playoff appearances. The Rockets simple, but effective defensive game plan of switching everything and double-teaming the all-star center has made his life miserable. He’s managed just 13.3 points and 13.3 rebounds per game on woeful .413/.222/.684 splits. At the same time, he’s been effective in finding the open man and better than advertised protecting the paint.
Towns is one of five members of the Wolves roster–Butler, Wiggins, Rose and Teague–who’s averaging between 12 and 18 points per game. While none of that group has had a starkly negative impact, they’ve all struggled to set themselves apart. Besides Derrick Rose, who’s play has seemed to inspire energy throughout the lineup, everyone else sits below their season average in points per game.
Through three match-ups, that didn’t matter; the Wolves were playing team-ball on both ends of the floor. They were making the extra pass to find an open man on offense while staying connected and playing with urgency on defense. Tonight, they’ll need more from everyone to give themselves a shot at keeping their season alive with a win at Toyota Center.
Like game 82 against the Denver Nuggets, tonight is do-or-die for the Wolves. A win would bring the series back to Minneapolis for game six on Friday night, but a loss would send Butler, Towns and the rest on vacation. While Wolves in six is no longer an accurate rally cry, Wolves in seven is still a possibility.