Chris Johnson arrived in Minnesota on Friday night just hoping to provide a little bit of energy and make a solid impression in his latest effort to catch on with an NBA team.
About 24 hours later, he was hearing chants of "M-V-P! M-V-P!" and teaming with another new face to carry the Timberwolves to a much-needed victory.
Johnson and Mickael Gelabale signed 10-day contracts on Saturday morning, then scored the first 23 points of the fourth quarter to lift the Timberwolves to a 92-79 victory over the slumping Houston Rockets on Saturday night.
Johnson, signed from Santa Cruz of the NBA Development League, scored 13 of his 15 points in the fourth. Gelabale, a forward who arrived from France on Thursday, had 10 of his 11 points in the final 12 minutes to help the injury-plagued Wolves snap a five-game skid.
"I don’t think I drew it up that way," Johnson said with a big smile.
Neither did the Rockets, who were caught totally flat-footed by a pair of unknown players who showed more heart and hustle in 12 minutes than the entire Houston team has in about two weeks.
James Harden scored 18 points on 5-of-18 shooting for the Rockets, who have lost seven consecutive games. Houston shot 32 percent and committed 20 turnovers in another lethargic effort that had coach Kevin McHale scrambling to find anybody who could give them some energy.
The Rockets starters shot 25.5 percent for the game and Harden is shooting 28 percent (23 for 80) over the last three games.
"We’re so out of character right now," McHale said. "We have turnovers, when guys are open we’re not hitting them and we take the extra dribble. Right now, we’re really in a funk and we’ve got to get ourselves out of it. That’s the bottom line. And we will."
Andrei Kirilenko had 21 points and 11 rebounds, and Luke Ridnour scored 16 points for the Timberwolves, who had lost each of their previous five by double digits and were playing with just nine healthy bodies.
They appeared to be running out of gas again when the Rockets closed the third quarter with a 10-2 run to cut Minnesota’s lead to 63-59, but that’s when Johnson and Gelabale improbably took over.
The super-athletic Johnson scored Minnesota’s first eight points of period. He threw down a huge alley-oop from Ridnour and was serenaded with the MVP chants when he knocked down two free throws for a 71-62 lead.
"I heard it," Johnson said sheepishly of the chants. "I don’t agree with it at all. It’s just a great fan base. They showed great support tonight."
Gelabale picked up from there, the French Olympian converting a three-point play during an 11-point scoring binge of his own to hold off the Rockets. Kirilenko’s putback with 1:35 to play was the first bucket by someone other than the 10-day duo in the fourth.
Getting outworked by two players who weren’t in the league on Friday may have been rock bottom for the Rockets.
They haven’t had near the injury issues that the Timberwolves have, but they looked to be hitting a pretty big wall themselves over the last two weeks. They’ve been sloppy on offense, turning the ball over far too many times and falling behind by at least 10 points in eight of the last nine games.
"I’m not playing to the best of my ability," Harden said. "I’m not making shots, I’m not making plays. I think we’re kind of in a fog right now. We’ve got to find a way to get out of this fog."
Looking for some juice, McHale started backup Patrick Beverley at point guard over Jeremy Lin, who was just 1 for 5 in the first half, to begin the third quarter along with reserves Carlos Delfino and Marcus Morris. But Beverley picked up two quick fouls and had to go to the bench and the Rockets went 0 for 7 and committed five turnovers in the first four minutes of the period.
"I honestly have no answer," said forward Chandler Parsons, who was 2 for 10. "We’re not playing well, we’re not playing good defense, we’re not playing good offense. I don’t think we’re playing hard enough. I don’t feel we’re leaving it all out there."
Wolves owner Glen Taylor waited for coach Terry Porter, who is filling in for Rick Adelman while he tends to his hospitalized wife, to finish his postgame press conference and approached him with an outstretched hand.
"I wanted to come in here and see how you did this," Taylor said.
"Smoke and mirrors," Porter replied. "Smoke and mirrors."
The Wolves were missing C Nikola Pekovic (bruised right quad), F Dante Cunningham (illness), G Alexey Shved (ankle), F Kevin Love (hand), F Chase Budinger (knee), G Brandon Roy (knee), F Josh Howard (knee) and G Malcolm Lee (hip). … Lin scored 12 points on 3-for-12 shooting. … Timberwolves F Derrick Williams had 11 points and five rebounds, and Ricky Rubio had seven points and six assists.