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Chris Paul helps extend Houston’s series lead in the Round one NBA Playoff series to 2-0 over Minnesota on Wednesday night.
Shut down James Harden? No problem, Chris Paul is there! The nine-time NBA All-Star, Paul, proved he can lead the Houston Rockets when needed — which he showed with 27-points and eight assists in Game two against the Minnesota Timberwolves in a 102-82 victory.
“With how much [Chris] loves the game of basketball, he was beating himself up after game one, he called me up and I said don’t worry about it, a win is all that matters,” said Harden. “I just knew that he was going to come back and be aggressive and that’s what he did.
Minnesota wanted to make three main adjustments in Game two including shutting down Harden who scorched them in Game one with 44-points. The Timberwolves also wanted to dissect Houston’s defense better this game while also finishing out each period stronger.
Even though Minnesota did a better job at containing Harden (only scored 12-points), that was the only tactic of the three they were able to do better in Game two, ultimately leading to the Timberwolves tough 20-point loss.
Early on, the game looked favorable for Minnesota and it seemed as if nothing would get in the way of them tying the series at one game apiece. They were playing as a team, forcing turnovers, transitioning up the floor, and knocking-down their shots. On the flip-side, Houston couldn’t make anything.
In fact, the Timberwolves were up by nine-points at one time and finished the period up 23-18.
But, then, Minnesota started to fall apart.
“If you drive into the basket, you feel like you were fouled and you don’t get a call, you’re not going to get a call it’s the playoffs,” stated Minnesota’s head coach Tom Thibodeau after the loss. “So just get back, you’ve got to play through things, you got to be mentally tough, you’ve got to be strong, this is a battle of wills, so you’ve got to read situations quickly.”
Houston made sure to read the situations quickly as they took advantage of the Timberwolves struggling. The Rockets began to blast off and light up the floor when they quickly rallied in the second stanza, shooting an impressive 70% in the second frame after only shooting 20% in the opening period.
At the same time, the Timberwolves went cold, going five minutes without a basket and allowing Houston to go on a 16-0 run. The Rockets put up 37-points in the second quarter, compared to just 18 in the first and their momentum didn’t stop with now a 15-point lead at intermission, 55-40.
“We didn’t play well as a team, the start of the game was very good the first quarter, the second quarter we got frustrated and we allowed that to impact getting back in transition, you can’t do that against this team,” said Minnesota’s Thibodeau.
The Rockets took over the game with their own speed and style, enforcing a defense that reaffirmed Minnesota’s inability to score in the second half. Both teams were shooting below 39 percent for the game, yet, Houston remained in the lead and wasn’t slowing down.
Not one player had a stand-out performance on the Timberwolves – especially the starters. Starting forward Andrew Wiggins had 13-points and eight rebounds, while four-time NBA All-Star Jimmy Butler had 11-points and four rebounds. Nermanja Bjelica was the high-scorer with 16-points and eight rebounds off the bench.
While Paul was the game’s leading scorer, he wasn’t the only Houston player who gave the Timberwolves problems. Typically, teams plan for the havoc starters can potentially wreck on them prior to stepping on the hardwood, however, opponents should beware of the Rockets’ reserve players. It’s tough when the opponent leaves some of their deadly weapons on the bench until they deem necessary, in the clever case of the Rockets’ Head Coach Mike D’Antoni, this is exactly what he did.
Gerald Green played the sixth-man role perfectly for Houston, finishing with 21-points and 12 rebounds all of which came at crucial points in the game.
“Gerald did it, he came in [when] we were struggling and he hit a couple three’s and opened it up,” shared D’Antoni. “Once you see the ball go in and get the monkey off your back, then we played pretty well for about two and a half quarters.
“My job is fairly easy, try to just bring a lot of energy on both ends of the floor and try to find the open spacing on offense to better knock down shots,” Green said following the win. “I’m really blessed to be able to play with the MVP and Chris Paul, those two guys that are able to get inside the defense and make easy plays for guys like us.”
With Green’s contributions and Paul’s big night, Houston did not disappoint in Game two as they moved to 2-0 in the series. The Rockets will travel to Minneapolis, Minnesota to take on the Timberwolves for Game three on Saturday, April 21.
“It will be crazy up there, they haven’t been in the playoffs for a long time so I expect it to be a very loud crowd and we’ve got to do our part and play defense and take the crowd out of it,” said D’Antoni on playing in Minnesota.
“We’ve got to be ready for all they’ve got, whatever they’ve got left we’re going to get it full throttle right when we get on that floor to start the game,” he concluded.