StaTuesday: Wolves’ defense dominated 4th vs. Rockets

The Minnesota Timberwolves made the biggest statement of the post-Jimmy Butler era Monday night, recovering from a 19-point deficit to deal the Houston Rockets a 103-91 loss at Target Center.

It was the first meeting between the two teams since the Rockets knocked off the Wolves in five games in the first round of last year’s playoffs.

And while this isn’t the James Harden-led juggernaut of last season (the Rockets have lost five straight and are now 11-12), these Wolves look a little different, too.

Minnesota stormed back after falling behind 62-45 at the half, holding the Rockets to just 29 points in the second half and just nine in the fourth quarter.

It was just the 16th time in the Wolves’ history that they’ve held an opponent to nine points or fewer in a single quarter.

Date Opponent Q PF PA +/- Final
Dec. 3, 2018 vs. Rockets 4th 17 9 8 W 103-91
Nov. 28, 2018 vs. Spurs 2nd 29 9 20 W 128-89
Dec. 3, 2014 vs. 76ers 2nd 21 9 12 L 77-85
Jan. 18, 2014 vs. Jazz 2nd 28 9 19 W 98-72
Jan. 1, 2011 vs. Nets 3rd 23 9 14 W 103-88
Dec. 6, 2007 at Hawks 3rd 27 8 19 L 89-90
Dec. 23, 2006 at Pacers 3rd 17 8 9 W 78-71
April 6, 2005 vs. Jazz 1st 31 8 23 W 111-86
Dec. 14, 2002 vs. Trail Blazers 4th 17 9 8 L 92-98 (OT)
Nov. 10, 2001 at Bucks 1st 28 9 19 W 98-82
Mar. 20, 1998 vs. Nuggets 3rd 18 8 10 W 104-88
Feb. 19, 1997 at Grizzlies 3rd 30 7 23 W 84-73
Nov. 10, 1996 at Clippers 3rd 14 8 6 L 70-81
Nov. 23, 1994 vs. Hawks 2nd 24 6 18 L 77-89
March 1, 1994 at Hawks 4th 30 8 22 L 99-102
Dec. 13, 1989 vs. Mavericks 4th 16 9 7 L 87-90

It was also the second time they’ve done it in the past week.

The Wolves locked down on defense during the second quarter of a 128-89 win over the San Antonio Spurs last week, holding the Spurs to nine points.

They’ve done it just four times in the fourth quarter, the last time occurring in 2002.

The upshot to all this: After years of subpar defensive play, Minnesota has emerged as a force on the defensive end in 11 games since dealing Butler to the Philadelphia 76ers for Robert Covington and Dario Saric.

The Wolves have a defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) of 101.2 in 11 games since the Butler trade, second to only the Oklahoma City Thunder over that span.

That’s after finishing with a defensive rating no better than 25th in four straight seasons.

If it continues, that might be enough to push the Wolves into playoff contention, even in the crowded Western Conference.

Minnesota was in eighth as recently as Friday, fell to 13th following a loss to the Boston Celtics on Saturday and rose to 10th with a win on Monday.