James Harden dominates as Rockets hold off Timberwolves to win Game 1

Updated 2:32 am, Monday, April 16, 2018



The season had belonged to James Harden. He was not about to let it go now.

From the opening night win against the Warriors to his run to the scoring championship and the presumed MVP, nothing would stop him, nothing seemed beyond his reach.

He would not allow that to change now, not on the first night of the Rockets’ postseason that filled with promise and aspirations the Rockets have not had in years.

With little else working and the Rockets unable to leave the Timberwolves behind, Harden took over in one of his most dominant performances, scoring 25 of his 44 points in the second half, carrying the Rockets past the Wolves, 104-101, and to a 1-0 lead in their best-of-seven first-round series.


The Rockets barely hung on, with the Wolves rallying to within three before a Chris Paul turnover with 8.7 seconds left. But Jimmy Butler missed his long 3 as the Rockets took the win.

While the Rockets struggled to find their usual 3-point shooting touch, Harden made 7 of 12 (the rest of the Rockets were 3 of 25) to drive the Rockets to the win.

He had returned to the floor with the Rockets clinging to a one-point lead midway through the fourth quarter and would not let the Rockets lose, scoring the team’s next 12 points before sending a lob to Clint Capela for an eight-point lead.

As much as Harden might have preferred to spend the night firing passes to 3-point shooters and lofting lobs to his levitating center, who had a career playoff-high 24 points, the time had come for the league’s leading scorer to shift to dominant, as if he needed only to see what was needed.

The Timberwolves had scored the first nine points of the second half with the Rockets missing three 3-pointers and a pair of Trevor Ariza free throws. With that, Harden took over. He passed to P.J. Tucker for a corner 3 – the only 3 any Rockets player other than Harden would hit in the quarter – and then took over.

With the Wolves holding a two-point lead with five minutes left in the third quarter, Harden scored 12 points before the end of the quarter, dragging the Rockets to a 76-72 lead.

Much of the Rockets’ struggles were because of their troubles from the 3-point line where they had dominated the season series.

The Rockets could not have been surprised to have been so off from the 3-point line early. That it is typical when players return even after a short break in the schedule. Other than Gerald Green, the Rockets regulars had not played since Tuesday.

They might not have expected it to last through the entire first half or not to have caused more damage.

The Rockets made just 4 of 19 3-pointers in the first half with designated shooters – Gordon, Ariza, Tucker and Green – a combined 0 for 10, an issue even more troubling with Luc Mbah a Moute and Ryan Anderson out and unable to give the Rockets two more shooters in their search for the usual shooting touch.

Capela, however, dominated, making up for all that was missing by providing perhaps the best half of his career.

Capela matched his career playoff-high of 20 points in just 17 minutes, starting the game with Harden setting him up on lobs, but taking it to another level.

In one blur of unstoppable excellence, Capela swatted away a Derrick Rose shot at the rim on one end and then beat the Wolves down the floor to finish with a powerful, rim-swinging slam off a Harden lob on the other. By halftime, he added two rebounds, a pair of blocked shots and a steal to the scoring.

Harden, who made 3 of his 5 3-pointers, added 19 points in the half. After the Rockets had lost all of an 11-point lead and trailed by a bucket, they had recovered enough to take a 54-47 lead into the second half.

The Rockets were 31-2 when holding teams shy of 50 in the first half this season, but that was with at least some of the usual shots falling.

The Timberwolves had been among the NBA’s best offensive teams throughout the season, with their lack of 3-point shooting about the only shortcoming. When the Rockets could not make 3s either, there was little to separate the top seed from the eighth seed, with the Rockets searching for answers and finding it in the usual place.

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