A wild last two minutes give the Minnesota Timberwolves plenty of chances but the Houston Rockets escaped with a Game 1 win.
This one could have been a disaster. Of all the first round series, this one looked the most lopsided on paper — with the best regular season team in the NBA ready to establish themselves as the team to beat in the playoffs. Instead, Houston let the Timberwolves hang around until the final few minutes, when they nearly gave the game away.
With a minute and a half on the clock and the Rockets holding a six-point lead, James Harden drew a foul and went to the line for two. He made the first, putting his team up seven. He missed the second and confusion for both teams on the rebound allowed Andrew Wiggins to slip free for an uncontested dunk.
On the next possession, with a chance to ice the game, Harden ran down the clock and strangely gave up his dribble, being forced to hoist a contested fall-away jumper from the elbow. The two teams then traded pairs of made free throws and a Karl-Anthony Towns tip-in cut the lead to three with 12.4 seconds left. Chris Paul then inexplicably threw the ball out of bounds, giving the Timberwolves the ball with eight seconds left and a chance to tie.
Jimmy Butler brought the ball up and air-balled a jumper with his foot on the line. Ball game Rockets.
This is what an MVP looks like. Aside from the decision to pick-up his dribble on that crucial possession, Harden was terrific. He finished the game with 44 points and eight assists, shooting 15-of-26 from the field. He was 7-of-12 on 3-pointers and kept his team in control, barely, with huge bucket after huge bucket. On a night where Chris Paul and the supporting cast were struggling with their jumpers, Harden’s scoring brilliance was the difference and then some for the Rockets.
This shot distribution is all sorts of messed up. Derrick Rose and Jamal Crawford combined for 25 shots off the Timberwolves bench. Karl-Anthony Towns and Jimmy Butler combined for 20. Granted, Rose and Crawford both shot extremely well in this game, but that sort of (im)balance is pretty much the worst-case scenario for Minnesota’s offense. Minnesota’s best offensive players need to be front and center in their attack. It may have (kind of) worked tonight but it’s not a recipe for success.
It’s time for Derrick Rose to go. This is as good a game as the Timberwolves could have asked for from Rose. He played 24 minutes, shot 7-of-14 from the field, scored 16 points, chipped in four assists and even made one of his two 3-point attempts. And Minnesota was still outscored by six points in the time he was on the floor. Moar Tyus Jones please.