The Houston Rockets Would Like to Reintroduce Themselves.
It finally happened. In the 3rd quarter of game 4 against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Houston Rockets showed up and dropped 50 points to silence the crowd at the Target Center in downtown Minneapolis.
There is no denying that the Rockets have had a rough start to the post season. The top seeded team has struggled to get into a rhythm and have had to rely on incredible individual performances to carry them to two slight victories over a hungry Timberwolves roster. Game one required James Harden to be in his bag, scoring 44 points when Chris Paul’s nerves got the best of him. Also, Clint Capela scored an impressive 24 points, 12 rebounds and 3 blocks. Game two required Chris Paul to Harlem Globe-trot his way into 27 points. Paul’s game combined with the 21-point bench performance from hometown hero Gerald Green gave Houston the advantage to win the game. In game three, when the Timberwolves returned home for the first playoff game in 14 years, Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague, Andrew Wiggins, and Derrick Rose went off. They reminded the Rockets and everyone else that while they sit in the 8th seed in the Western Conference, when Butler was healthy during the season, they were truly a #3 or #4 seeded team.
While both Harden and Paul are All-Star talents, their biggest criticisms have come from their post-season struggles. At the top of Game four, the struggle-ball continued for Harden who was 0-of-7 from the floor in the first. Ariza caught fire and assisted the team in getting to a 1-point lead at the half. Knowing that all eyes were on them, something happened in the 3rd quarter of Game four. The Rockets went on an 11-point scoring run courtesy of Paul and Harden. They caught first when the team needed it most and managed to score a combined 37 points in the quarter.
MVP front-runner Harden showed signs of missed shot amnesia which is a major key in escaping struggle-ball. Though his shot failed to fall in the first half, he was persistent. No slumped shoulders, no hanging his head, no pleading with the refs…well…no unwarranted pleading with the refs. He shot until he caught fire. In the magical 3rd quarter, Harden was 7-of-10, scoring 22 points. He broke Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon’s franchise record of 18; setting a new one with 22.
“For myself and Chris, we had the mentality to be aggressive, make or miss shots,” Harden explained, “That’s what we do. We shoot the basketball. Eventually, they’ll start falling. That’s what happened.”
Paul said of the game, “We just got hot. Guys started making shots. We talked going into the game about being aggressive, and I think we all just tried to do that.”
Paul went on to say, “Obviously everybody will look at the 50 points that we scored in the quarter, but it was our defense. We finally started getting them to take tough shots, we were getting rebounds and we’re tough in transition. You’ve got James coming downhill, myself and the way we’ve got the court spaced with shooters is big. That really turned it up for us.”
Harden finished with 36 points and Paul finished with 25. Their performances were key in this blow-out victory that gave the Rockets a 3-1 series lead. The Timberwolves who are on the brink of elimination are officially on notice as the series returns to Houston.
Sixth man Eric Gordon, a critical piece of the Rockets arsenal, said it best, “We can be that team.”
Gordon, who had an 8-point 3rd quarter performance, which included a 3 at the buzzer, went on to say, “We just hadn’t gotten into a flow throughout this whole series. It was good to see that.”
Now that the Rockets have flipped the switch, showing themselves and their critics that what they’ve been doing all season is real and what they are truly capable of, they only have 13 more wins to the title.