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How the Rockets practically wiped out the playoff hopes of the Wolves in 12 minutes of flawless basketball



MINNEAPOLIS – Eighteen minutes in Game 4 of the first-round series between the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Houston Rockets, it seemed the eight-headed wolves really had something to cook.

After mishandling the NBA team's best regular season in Game 3, this was the first home playoff game in Minneapolis in 14 years, the Wolves still seemed to find the recipe to be one of the best offenses in the history of the game NBA included. They held things physically. They forced the Rockets into controversial shots. They did what they did in Game 3.

And most impressively, they kept James Harden, the League's alleged MVP and the most unstoppable offensive force, at zero field goals. Harden was missing and missing very much. Andrew Wiggins ̵

1; Andrew Wiggins! – played Lockdown Defense. His first seven shots missed Harden. Back to the start of Game 2, Harden had made only 11 of 46 shots, his worst shooting range of the entire season.

In the middle of the second quarter, Harden made his first shot, a nine foot J from inside the Foullinie, which brought the Rockets into two of the Timberwolves. Thirty-six seconds later Harden hit his first 3-pointer. Twenty-nine seconds later, he hit his second triple. When the horn sounded at halftime, the Rockets were 50-49. Harden now had 11 points on 4 of 14 shooting – far from an efficient, harden-esque performance, but certainly better than when he was shut down in Game 2.

Then came the third quarter.

Maybe it was the half-time performance of The Amazing Sladek ("America's oldest daredevil acrobatic hand balancer," no joke). Maybe it was that after a few games, when the shots did not come for the Rockets, the shots finally fell. Or maybe Harden and the Rockets decided to quit this smaller team.

Whatever it was, the Rockets turned on the afterburners. After 50 points in the first half, the Rockets scored 50 points in the third quarter . Those 50 points were a shadowy leg ahead of an NBA postseason record for most points in a quarter (March 31, 1962, when the Los Angeles Lakers 51 hit the Detroit Pistons, in case you were wondering). Three minutes into the third quarter, Harden still had seven points, Chris Paul had six more points, and the Timber Wolves had only two points left. The wolves called for a break, now 12. That did not help; two minutes and 48 seconds (and 10 Harden points) later, the Rockets were up to 23. By the end of the quarter, a one-point Rockets lead over 12 minutes had led to a 31-point Rockets. Harden scored 22 points in those 12 minutes; 50 points came from the Rockets, 37 came from Harden and Paul. As a team, the Rockets shot 61 percent in this third quarter and made nine, three on the way to a Game 4 victory that was not nearly as close as the 119-100 final result.

The Rockets Exploded [196592002] Let's go into the simple wisdom of Harden to break up exactly what happened in this historic third quarter: "We scored 50 points," Harden shrugged. "We were defensively active and offensively we got it going, it's pretty easy."

What felt like a real, competitive first-round playoff series between a lonely and a mindful at half-time soon felt. Gentlemen's sweep at the end of the third quarter.

And we should not be the least bit surprised. That's why the Rockets were the NBA's best team during the regular season and why they should be by far the biggest threat to the NBA's dominance of the Golden State Warriors

.

There is no league team that can score points in bundles like these Rockets. (No, not even the Warriors, and not even if the Warriors have a healthy Steph Curry.) Yes, I understand that Harden and Paul have been playing together for less than an entire season, and that everyone has playoff stories that are too Wish, but there is a chance – a chance of zero – that in 30 years' time we might call the Harden Paul duo the best NBA backcourt of all time. And the pieces around her are perfect. No team in NBA history has started as many 3-point attempts as the Rockets this season, averaging over 42 per game. The first 11 points of the Rockets were not scored by Harden or Paul, but by Trevor Ariza (3 out of 3 out of depth, plus two free throws). Eric Gordon scored 18 points on 4 of 10 3-point shooting on Monday night. They may not always do their 3s – they certainly did not do that in the first three games of this series – but they take so damn many of them that eventually they will fall.

And they fall in the third quarter on Monday night, that was the 12 minutes of basketball that, in all respects, ended this series.

"They were just taking some hard shots," said Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns. "There is a reason why they are the team they are, we had to hold the lead we had in the first half for 48 minutes, which we did not do tonight."

Maybe it's silly to count the Timberwolves out there still playing basketball. I do not think so. The Rockets seemed to be unstoppable in the third quarter, and they take this mentality home, and they will win, and then they will be prepared to compete against either the Utah Jazz or the Oklahoma City Thunder. I hope it's jazz; a matchup of the best offensive in the NBA against the best defense in the NBA (if healthy, that's jazz) should make a hell of a series.

For a while – for three and a half games, to be exact – this series seemed to be in the air. And then, poof, it was over.

We saw the best the Rockets have to offer this third quarter: Aggressive Defense, which produced a quick attack. And finally, the shots started to fall for her.

And if we keep seeing a version of it over the next eight weeks, we'll soon crown the Rockets as NBA champions 2017-18.

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