The Minnesota Timberwolves signed French swingman Mickael Gelabale and D-League center Chris Johnson just a few hours before tonight's game tipped and without them, they probably would've dropped their 6th straight game.
Gelabale (10) and Johnson (13) combined for 23 of Minnesota's 29 points in the final quarter that saw the Wolves hand the Rockets their 7th consecutive defeat.
After three quarters I was VERY worried about another game slipping away, as I assumed James Harden would take over and boost the Rockets to a narrow W. Instead the Wolves held Harden to just 4 fourth quarter points as they rode some great offensive production from Gelabale and Johnson for their first win in five games!
The Wolves held Harden to 18 points on the night (the second straight game he's scored under 20, after going 22 straight games with 20+). Despite being guarded by Ridnour for long stretches, Harden just couldn't get it going. Gelabale was tasked with guarding him in the fourth and did so quite swimmingly! I think it's safe to say the Wolves found a solid addition in Gelabale, here's hoping we continue to see more of him.
The Wolves had just nine healthy players for this one (two of which were Mickael & Chris that signed contracts this morning). Kevin Love (hand), Brandon Roy (knees), Malcolm Lee (knee/hip), Chase Budinger (knee), Nikola Pekovic (thigh), Alexey Shved (ankle) and Dante Cunningham (illness) were all out. As such, guys like Stiemsma & Amundson saw extended minutes, Kirilenko played 42, Rubio played a season-high 30 and their new additions Gelabale & Johnson played 21 & 18 minutes off the bench.
Let's take a look at tonight's top performers...
With so many key players out, the Wolves desperately needed big games from their veterans. AK & Luke definitely delivered. Kirilenko had a great all-around game--scoring, hitting the boards, playing great D and just being incredibly active on both ends. Ridnour has found his shot as of late and that continued tonight with 16 points in extended minutes.
The New Guys had great fourth quarters that propelled Minnesota to a win. Gelabale came into the fourth with just one point and Johnson had 2 off a J.J. Barea alley-oop. Then, they caught fire in the final quarter. Some great things about this? Chris Johnson was on the floor for the majority of the fourth, leaving Greg Stiemsma on the bench (something I'll always be a fan of). Also, Gelabale guarded Harden in the fourth quarter limiting him to just 4 points. The last time the Wolves played the Rockets (12/26) Harden went off for 15 fourth quarter points to propel Houston to a slim three-point W.
James Harden's struggles are a small reason they lost the game, but without his all-around play they don't have much of a chance of being competitive. Little to no production from Houston's other four starters (Parsons, Patterson, Asik & Lin) just couldn't get anything going.
Delfino & Smith had solid outings off the pine. Both chipped in big points and did so efficiently.
MISC. STATS: Ridnour's 1 block ties a season-high.....Ricky Rubio played a season-high 30 minutes as his limit continues to increase.....Greg Stiemsma got the start at center and tied a season-high with 22 minutes, he probably would've played more if not for Johnson's great performance in the fourth.....Chris Johnson set new career-highs with 15 points and his 7 made free throws. He also tied career-highs with 4 made field goals and 8 free throw attempts.....
KEY STATS: The Wolves finally did what they couldn't in their last five games: they shot the ball well and actually played some defense (against one of the NBA's best teams), holding them to a 30% field goal night. Granted the Rockets clearly had a VERY 'off' night, but I'd let to give a bit of credit to Minny's D. The Wolves were beat on the boards by a +6, had a very low assist total and turned the ball over 15 times! Luckily, the Rockets also had a low assist total and turned the ball over 20 times!
I do think this Houston squad is a solid team, they'll probably make the playoffs as a lower seed, but they'll only go as far as Harden can carry them. Until/unless they can make improvements to their frontcourt, they're going to continue to struggle.
MISC. STATS: Minnesota's 29 made free throws and 36 attempts are the second-best numbers of the season.....The Wolves' 30 field goals made, 3 three-pointers made and 4 steals all tie the second-lowest numbers of the season. Their 64 field goal attempts ties a season-low and their 14 assists is a new season-low.....Houston's 31 three-point attempts and 20 turnovers both tied the highest marks of the season for a Wolves opponent, while the 21 offensive rebounds is a new season-high for a MIN opponent.....Houston's 25 made field goals and 32.1% field goal percentage are both season-lows for Wolves opponents and their 14 assists ties a season-worst.....
That's all for now, the Wolves will be back in action on Monday vs. the Hawks in Atlanta. That one tips at 1pmCT and a full gameday preview can be found on this site Sunday afternoon/evening. Until then, thanks for reading HOWL and GO WOLVES!
Cody D. Anderson
A Wolves fan bringing you Gameday Recaps all season long!