“I have a weakness for waltzes, I’m a sucker for sad songs,
It ain’t my fault, dear, it’s the way I’ve become.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m as happy as the daytime is long,
But in a melancholy melody, it’s the place I belong
-Parker Millsap, At the Bar (Emerald City Blues)
Despite missing Trevor Ariza and Gerald Green due to league suspensions in the wake of Secret Hallway-Gate, and James Harden playing like he was wearing cement shoes as he returned from a hamstring injury, the Houston Rockets dispatched the Minnesota Timberwolves easily on Thursday night, 116-98.
The Wolves managed to keep it close for the first 20 minutes or so of gametime, but towards the end of the first half, the Rockets capitalized off of a few bad turnovers, turned up the pace, and blitzed their way to a 13-point lead at the break. Minnesota managed to shave the lead to 6 early in the third quarter, but a three-pointer – steal – three-pointer sequence by Houston pushed it back to 12 before the Wolves knew what hit them. An end-of-the-third heave by Eric Gordon extended the lead to 19, thus relegating the final frame to garbage time.
Sure, it’s January, but it’s fair to say this was a disappointing outcome for the Wolves. James Harden looked slow and out-of-shape (he wound up going 3-of-15 from the field, for 10 points) and Trevor Ariza’s absence left Houston with one fewer wing to throw at Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (14 points, including 4-of-6 shooting from downtown… in a REVENGE GAME!) and P.J. Tucker (9 boards and a steal) did pretty good work in Ariza’s absence, and Eric Gordon picked up the scoring slack for Harden by dropping 30 points on 19 shots. The Wolves just couldn’t exploit the mismatches when they were able to force them; several times, Chris Paul wound up one-on-one defending Jimmy Butler or Andrew Wiggins, and the Wolves didn’t do nearly enough to make them pay for it. One way to counteract Houston’s attack is to slow the game down by getting to the line a ton, but Minnesota didn’t really do that. Instead, they allowed the Rockets to set the pace from the end of the second quarter onward.
Karl-Anthony Towns certainly came to play – he scored 22 points, pulled down 16 rebounds, blocked 5 shots, and was a plus-2; every other starter had a double-digit negative plus-minus. Wiggins had a 16-5-3 line, but was a game-worst minus-31. Jeff Teague had some problems throwing entry passes again (such an odd thing) and the offense sure seemed to function much more smoothly when he was off the court. Taj was quiet. Jimmy Butler had 23 points, 4 rebounds and 2 steals, but couldn’t work his usual magic to get the Wolves within striking distance to make it a game.
Nemanja Bjelica had a very nice stretch early in the 2nd quarter, including this nifty steal, fastbreak and dish to Tyus Jones for a corner three:
Tyus 3 pic.twitter.com/2IAJrBfl2t
— A Wolf Among Wolves (@AWAWBlog) January 19, 2018
He wound up with 5 points, 2 rebounds and 4 assists… but he played just 7 minutes, and just 2:46 in the second half of the game. Bjelica did have a pair of bad plays at the end of his first stint (a turnover, followed up by getting his next shot attempt blocked) but it still would’ve been nice to see him for a lot longer than he was out there. He at least fit the style of play the game eventually took on.
The Wolves are now 29-18 and will head home to take on the Toronto Raptors Sunday at the Target Center.