It wasn't the high-scoring affair we were all expecting. We all assumed it would be a game decided in the 100's, but both teams were finished in the 80's, unfortunately the Wolves were on the wrong end of it all.
We got a bit of deja vu in the fourth quarter of this one. In Minnesota's last game (vs. the Knicks on Sunday), they led by double-digits during the game, but allowed New York's star (Carmelo Anthony) to go off for a big final quarter that sealed a TWolves opponent win.
Tonight, it was the Houston Rockets star--James Harden. Harden scored 17 points in the fourth quarter as the Rockets were able to seal a narrow three-point victory behind his incredible offensive game. Through the first three quarters the Wolves held Harden to just 13 points and were on pace to hold Harden under 20 points for the first time in nine games. Unfortunately he exploded for those 17 fourth quarter points, finished with 30 on the night and extended his streak of 20+ point games to 10 (games).
The Timberwolves held a 14-point lead early in the third quarter, however Minnesota's offense absolutely disappeared as the Rockets amassed a big run and were able to regain the lead late in the third. With just 2:45 to play in the game, the score was knotted at 81. Kirilenko went 1 of 2 at the line to make it 81-82 Wolves with 2:20 to play. A Harden basket, just ten seconds late made it 83-82 Houston. On Minnesota's next offensive set Shved hit AK in the post for a quick bunny that gave Minnesota the 84-83 lead with 1:50 to play. With 45 seconds to play the Wolves were still up 84-83, Kevin Love clanged a three-pointer and the ball went out of bounds on Minnesota. The Rockets took a timeout with 44.1 seconds to play. Harden took it to the rim and gave the Rockets the 85-84 lead with 37 seconds to play. Barea turned it over on the next possession and Harden made the defensive stop count as he hit another layup and gave the Rockets an 87-84 lead with 11.7 seconds to play. The TWolves took a timeout, but the play they ran turned out to be absolutely dreadful as they had to hoist up a last-second desperation shot. Alexey Shved threw up a well-contested three that had no chance of finding the bottom of the net, the TWolves lose 87-84.
In the gameday preview, I stated confidently that the Minnesota Timberwolves held a HUGE advantage in the frontcourt (AK, Love, Pek) and they would ride those players to victory. That couldn't be any farther from the truth. Kirilenko didn't have a terrible game, but offensively he had just 8pts on 2-of-6 shooting and added 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals and 1 block. Nikola Pekovic was dealing with an illness that limited him to just 23 minutes of court time. He finished with 2 points on 1-of-7 shooting along with 7 rebounds. And worst of all: Kevin Love. Love finished with just 7 points (all scored in the first quarter) on 3-of-14 shooting, 0-for-7 from deep as well as 12 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block and 5 turnovers in 36 minutes.
Many fans had some very negative reactions to Kevin Love following this loss. The most recurring statement (mostly via Twitter) was that tonight showed why Kevin Love wasn't worthy of a maximum offer contract and James Harden was/is. I don't agree with that statement. I still adamantly believe (like YOU should too) that Kevin Love is a star and if the TWolves are going to have any chance at a postseason run, it'll be K-Love that leads them there. It's clear that his hand is still hurting him and he doesn't have the conditioning to play 35+ in a game, yet. At least not effectively/efficiently.
Ricky Rubio did see a slight bump in minutes. He played 21 minutes after news came he'd see a slight bump in minutes from the 18 minutes a game he has been held in his first few games back. Rubio finished with 8 points on 2-of-5 shooting, 4-of-4 from the line along with 2 assists and 1 steal.
Let's take a look at some of tonight's top performers in this one...
HOT: James Harden's fourth quarter. He continued to split the defense and get to the rim for easy buckets. The Wolves couldn't get it through their heads that if they wanted to win--they had to stop him...either that, or they lacked the know-how/ability to do so.
NOT: Kevin Love. He turned in another awful, awful game offensively. Just 3-for-14 from the field, including an 0-for-7 shooting clip from downtown. Had the Wolves gotten just a bit more production from him (their star player) the outcome wouldn't have been a 3-point loss.
MISC. STATS: Barea set new season-highs in defensive rebounds (6) and total rebounds (7) in this one.....With Love struggling and Pek limited due to that 'illness', Dante played a season-high 37 minutes......Rubio's 21 minutes are obviously a new season-high, since the Wolves readjusted his 'minutes cap'.....
KEY STATS: The Rockets shot higher percentages in all three of the above categories. The Wolves shot 76.5% from the line, which isn't terrible, however they left those four points at the line and in a close game such as this, four misses from the line can be a big difference-maker. The Wolves held the NBA's best transition team to just 13 fast break points along with just 5 points off those 14 Minnesota turnovers (10 of which came in the second half). The Wolves got a big boost from their bench. They played four players off the pine: Barea (18), Williams (9), Rubio (8) and Cunningham (8) combined for 43 bench points.
MISC. STATS: Minnesota's 28 three-point attempts are tied for first on the season, the Wolves also tied a season-low with 12 fouls and had their second-worst scoring night with just 84 points. Houston's 31 three-point attempts along with their 40 defensive rebounds are both season-best for a TWolves opponent.
The TWolves will be back in action vs. the Suns on Saturday (12/29). A full gameday preview of that one can be found on this site before then. That's all for now, thanks for reading HOWL and GO WOLVES!
Cody D. Anderson
A Wolves fan bringing you Gameday Recaps all season long!