The Timberwolves built just their second two-game winning streak of the season while halting the Rockets’ streak at nine.
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Riding a nine-game winning streak and playing as well as anyone in the league, the Houston Rockets, led by presumptive MVP favorite James Harden, came into Minnesota looking to move past the San Antonio Spurs with a win to take sole possession of the second seed in the West.
Unfortunately for them, the Minnesota Timberwolves came out to play. Defending as well as they have all season while getting a big game off the bench from Shabazz Muhammad and great effort on both ends of the court from Brandon Rush, who started in place of the injured Zach LaVine.
Led by floor general Ricky Rubio, who notched a career and franchise record-tying 17 assists, the Timberwolves snapped the Rockets win streak and began their own with only their second two-game winning streak of the season.
Andrew Wiggins started the game hot, scoring eight of the Wolves’ first 11 points and putting up 15 of the Wolves 30 in the first quarter. Minnesota shot 57 percent as a team in the quarter while holding the Rockets to just 39 percent shooting and collectively did a good job of keeping Harden in check early with just four points, four assists, and zero trips to the line.
The Timberwolves were able to get out to a 28-17 lead late in the first before allowing Houston to close the gap 30-23 after a couple of layups from Corey Brewer.
Brandon Rush led the way on defense in the second by hustling back in transition, getting blocks and attacking the offensive glass which seemed to spread to the second unit, whose activity helped Minnesota maintain their lead early in the period.
The Timberwolves were unable to extend their lead, however, due to sloppy play on the offensive end as Kris Dunn played a bit out of control, throwing ill-advised passes and failing to make the simple plays, which led to seven of Minnesota’s 12 first half turnovers.
Houston was able to slowly creep back into the game off a 12-5 late run capped off by a Hail Mary buzzer-beater from Nene pulled the Rockets to within 55-54 by halftime.
Harden, who scored eight second quarter points, carried his offensive onslaught into the third, putting up another 14 in the period while helping Houston take back the lead. The lead was short-lived however, as the Timberwolves, led by Ricky Rubio and his eight third quarter assists, controlled the game by getting everyone involved in a balanced scoring effort which included two huge three’s from Rush and a couple big dunks from Muhammad in transition. The Wolves not only retook the lead but extend it to 89-77 by quarter’s end.
Leading by 12 entering the fourth quarter, the Timberwolves looked to avoid adding to their league high 12 losses when leading an opponent by double digits.
Instead, they got off to a great start thanks to Nemanja Bjelica and a steadier, more controlled Kris Dunn who quickly got the lead up to 97-77 within the first three minutes of the fourth. That gave the Timberwolves the necessary space to withstand the Houston charge that would inevitably come.
And sure enough, midway through the quarter, Houston started to gain momentum, quickly going 5-6 from three (7-14 in the fourth) and scoring 17 points in a little over three minutes. On most nights, this might have threatened the Wolves lead but was non-effective as Minnesota matched the Rockets shot-for-shot with Wiggins, KAT and Muhammad each coming up with big plays down the stretch to help seal an impressive Timberwolves victory at home.
Brandon Rush in his first start of the season was active on defense, blocking shots, getting steals and attacking the glass while hitting four big three from the corner. Rush’s contributions gave the Wolves much-needed energy throughout the night.
Andrew Wiggins set the tone to start the game for the Wolves while KAT was a beast inside, grabbing 18 rebounds while moving guys around in the post.
Ricky Rubio perhaps played his best game of the season, getting everyone involved while running the offense like a well-oiled machine, picking apart the defense and allowing the Wolves to keep pace with the Rockets late.