The Minnesota Timberwolves and Houston Rockets are far from the most prolific offenses in the league, as they rank 19th and 20th respectively in offensive rating. While the Rockets held up their end of the script with a slow start, the Timberwolves bucked expectations.
The first quarter couldn’t have gone much better for the Wolves as they racked up 31 points with an offensive rating of 129.2. They pressured the rim, got to the line eight times, and didn’t commit a single turnover. Minnesota continued to move the ball and pick their spots perfectly. They played simple and just took what the defense gave them.
Conversely, the Rockets struggled to find a rhythm early as they had a first quarter offensive rating of 87.5 and effective field goal rate of 47.5%. The Timberwolves played aggressive ball denial on the few perimeter scorers on the Rockets, while going under screens and daring them to pull up against their more athletic non-shooters. By packing the paint, Minnesota forced Houston to shoot just 57.1% at the rim, which is about 6% lower than their average.
THROW IT DOWN, SLIM. pic.twitter.com/MRmLGzA1JC— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) February 5, 2024
As the second quarter evolved, the Timberwolves got dragged down in the muck as both teams combined for just 38 points. The Rockets strategy was more of the same as they looked to push in transition and pressure the rim as much as possible. It’s a philosophy that we typically see from Minnesota as well, but the rim was not friendly to the Wolves in the first half. The Timberwolves only took 23% of their shots at the rim and shot just 60%. This season, those numbers have been 34.8% and 67% respectively.
The Rockets’ strategy of packing the paint and over-helping paid early dividends. Not only did the Timberwolves struggle to score inside, but their ball security also disappeared. After not committing a turnover in the first quarter, they finished the first half with nine. This plummeted their offensive rating to just 100. The lone bright spot of the Wolves’ ability to deal with a packed paint was that it freed them up for a ton of corner threes, one of the most efficient shots in basketball. Minnesota eagerly capitalized on these looks as they went 5-10 from the corner, which accounted for about a third of their first half points.
After a brutal 1/8 shooting performance in the first half, Anthony Edwards had a strong bounce back to start the third quarter. He kept his attacks simple and focused on attacking the rim. After running off a handoff that led to a layup, Edwards utilized his size advantage to create a short floater over Fred VanVleet on the next possession. These two buckets sparked a scoring avalanche for Edwards. His next possessions consisted of a floater plus a foul, two pull-up threes, and another off-balance floater. His sluggish 1-8 shooting start rapidly evolved into a 10-20 performance with 28 points.
A third quarter scoring explosion from Edwards nearly singlehandedly drove the Wolves’ lead up to 16 entering the fourth. While Edwards’ scoring electrified the arena, a full team effort turned an inconsistent Rockets’ offense into an anemic one. Entering the fourth quarter, the Rockets had an offensive rating of just 82.7 and an effective field goal rate of 38.1%. Those would rank in the 1st and 0 percentiles respectively. Edwards scored 22 points in the frame, outscoring the Rockets 22-20 by himself.
HE IS SENSATIONAL. pic.twitter.com/wyO8p4JXPG— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) February 5, 2024
As the fourth quarter progressed, the Timberwolves continued to out execute the Rockets. While Edwards had an electrifying third quarter, the team’s offense had yet another down night. In most instances, their offensive rating of 115.7 and effective field goal rate of 52.5 would barely be enough. Tonight, like most this season though, it was more than enough to complement their spectacular defense.
RUDY STEAL— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) February 5, 2024
Minnesota cruised to the finish line, 111-90, with the end of the bench playing the final four minutes and change.
Edwards led all scorers with 32 points on 11/22 shooting (4/8 from 3, 6/8 on free throws), while Gobert added 17 points, 13 rebounds, four blocks and a steal. Towns scored 14 points on 4/12 from the floor, but did grab 10 rebounds and block a pair of shots.
The Timberwolves struggled to score at the rim in terms of efficiency and volume in the first half, but they consistently generated paint touches all night. In the first half, their ability to collapse the defense generated a plethora of threes that the Wolves capitalized on. Their execution of these looks forced Houston to stay home a little more on shooters in the second half.
In the second half, the Rockets adjustment of staying home on corner shooters succeed in limiting those looks. However, it also created more lanes to the rim. This allowed Edwards to find a rhythm that quickly turned into a scoring explosion. Edwards found his grove, consistently finished around the rim, and started raining threes as the defense became more concerned about containing drives.
The Rockets’ offense is typically an inconsistent one at best. Tonight, the Timberwolves defense completely shut them down to a point where it looked like they were playing a different sport. Through three quarters, Houston had an offensive rating of 82.7 (1st percentile) and an effective field goal rate of 38.1% (0 percentile). Not only did Minnesota do a tremendous job of forcing bad shots all night, but they also finished possessions. By holding the Rockets’ offensive rebounding rate to under 20%, the Wolves didn’t allow a lot of the easy points that we’re used to seeing them surrender to young, athletic teams.
Jalen Green and Cam Whitmore had been on fire recently as both were averaging over 20 points per game in their last five. Tonight, they were held to just 8 and 14 on 3-15 and 4-13 shooting respectively. The Rockets’ other stars in Alperen Sengun and Jabari Smith failed to pick up the scoring slack as both struggled with foul issues all night. From top to bottom, the NBA’s top defense did a tremendous job of executing their defensive responsibilities and making life miserable for their counterparts.
With this win, the Wolves secured their third All-Star recognition. Timberwolves Head Coach Chris Finch and his staff will be coaching the Western Conference in the All-Star Game, the first time a Wolves coach has done so since Flip Saunders did it in 2004. After the game, it was the biggest topic of conversation.
After the game, the players doused Finch with water in the locker room to celebrate the occasion. Finch described it as a huge honor to be the head coach in the All-Star game. When asked what it felt like, Finch said that it hadn’t really kicked in yet, but he was very excited and further emphasized how much of an honor it is.
THAT’S OUR COACH pic.twitter.com/fUPlAf5dFv— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) February 5, 2024
In the locker room, Rudy Gobert provided insight into his relationship with Finch. Gobert described Finch as a great human being and getting to know him more has made Gobert want to win for him. Gobert also explained how he loves that Finch is honest and says what everyone needs to do without sugar coating it. Edwards shared those sentiments saying that Finch coaches his players and holds them accountable. Spirits were high after the dominant win, but the overwhelming sentiment was pure excitement and appreciation for Finch and his accomplishment.
The Wolves will head to the Windy City on Monday for a Tuesday matchup with the Chicago Bulls, who will be without old friend Zach LaVine, who is set to undergo season-ending foot surgery. Fans can watch the 7 PM CT tip on Bally Sports North.