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Chron: Rockets muzzle T-Wolves

Discussion in 'Houston Rockets: Game Action & Roster Moves' started by vtkp99, Mar 6, 2004.

  1. vtkp99

    vtkp99 Contributing Member

    Jun 30, 2002
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    Rockets muzzle T-Wolves By JONATHAN FEIGEN



    MINNEAPOLIS -- The Timberwolves had given the Rockets everything that had made them a trendy NBA championship pick. Kevin Garnett looked every bit the Most Valuable Player. Sam Cassell seemed nothing short of unstoppable. The reinforcements seemed to never stop coming.
    And the Rockets thought about the Lakers. They thought about the SuperSonics. They thought about good games turned into bad losses and perhaps finally, maybe, grew up.

    The Rockets had their most prolific offensive four quarters of the season on Friday night at Target Center. But they were their best on both ends when they had to be, pulling away down the stretch to take a 112-109 win over the Timberwolves that in many ways could have been their best of the season.

    A game after they seemed to wish the fourth-quarter clock against the Lakers would move faster, and after consecutive games in which they were whipped down the stretch, the Rockets executed their offense with relative precision and played better defense at key times than they had in their losses.

    "It was emphasized the last two games: We lost in the fourth quarter," Rockets forward Jim Jackson said. "It was very, very prevalent in everybody's minds we had to step up and not allow them to score like the last two losses. We thought it right then. We could not allow that again. We thought, `If we're going to win close games, we're going to have to stop people in the fourth quarter.' "

    The Rockets have not won many close games, particularly against the likes of the Timberwolves, who had won 20 of their previous 22 home games. Through three quarters, the Minnesota offense was rolling along at 60.3 percent. The Timberwolves had made five of seven treys. Garnett already had 23 points and 14 rebounds. Minnesota led by five heading into the fourth quarter and was 36-7 when taking a lead into the final 12 minutes.

    The Lakers outscored the Rockets by 12 points in the fourth quarter Wednesday after the Sonics outscored them by six in the final quarter and by 11 in the second half.

    But with the game on the line Friday, the Rockets took it over.

    "We normally get better defensively in the fourth quarter," said Rockets guard Steve Francis, who had 25 points, six assists and six rebounds. "But the last couple games against Seattle and Los Angeles, we weren't able to get it going defensively. Tonight, we contested harder late in the game."

    The Rockets had rallied to the most tenuous of two-point leads four minutes into the final quarter. But the Timberwolves had shown few signs of slowing.

    But the Rockets' defense, seemingly overmatched the rest of the game, took away the uncontested shots they had been allowing. Making 61.3 percent of their shots four minutes into the fourth quarter, Minnesota made only three of its next 10 attempts.

    "It was better in the fourth than in the first three quarters," Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "Maybe they were tired out from making them the other three quarters."

    With the Rockets leading by six with two minutes left, Garnett nailed a jumper and, with a foul on Francis, got a three-point play to cut the lead to three. Yao Ming lost the ball and then fouled Latrell Sprewell. Sprewell's free throws cut the lead to one. But Francis took off down the lane, drew Garnett and Michael Olowokandi, and found Clarence Weatherspoon 18 feet from the basket. His jumper gave the Rockets a 110-107 lead with 1:37 left.

    "I was looking to go to the basket, but they cut it off," Francis said. "Everybody converged to me. He was open at the top. It was only him, the basket and however many people this arena holds (a sellout crowd of 20,109). They were screaming, but he was able to knock it down."

    Sprewell missed a jumper with 46.9 seconds left and after getting the rebound, Weatherspoon was fouled and made both free throws for a five-point Rockets lead with 44.4 seconds left.

    But the Timberwolves got themselves a last chance. Garnett, who finished with 32 points and 18 rebounds, scored quickly. After running the shot clock down to its final seconds, the Rockets went for a Cuttino Mobley 3. Mobley missed with 11.9 seconds left. After Troy Hudson missed a 3 with 3.8 seconds remaining, Rockets forward Adrian Griffin, in to help on the boards, missed two foul shots to give Minnesota time for one more shot.

    But the Wolves could only inbound to Garnett, who was forced to try a trey that missed badly at the buzzer.

    "From the beginning of the game, we played great offense today," said Yao, who had 27 points. "But coach was continually getting on us about our defense. It wasn't until the last three minutes of the game we were able to pick that up. And that's when it was important."


    Rockets summary
    Friendly rivals
    With his trade from the Bucks to the Timberwolves, former Rockets guard Sam Cassell had doubled the number of games he can play against his former team from his adopted hometown and against his friend and business partner Steve Francis.

    Francis and Cassell both were guards at San Jacinto College and are from Maryland, Cassell from the Baltimore area and Francis from outside Washington.

    They and Golden State guard Nick Van Exel are partners in We 'R One Apparel.

    Francis and Cassell could also meet in the playoffs, with he Timberwolves in position to be the second seed and the Rockets in seventh in the Western Conference with 21 games left to play.

    "It's too early to talk about playoffs," Francis said. "But all of Maryland -- Baltimore and D.C. -- will be watching. It's good to play against him. He's seven years older than me, but that doesn't mean anything in this league. It's good to play against someone like that because we're cool. We're friends.

    "I'll tell you one thing; A few years ago. I would have hung out with him before the game. I didn't talk to him before the game, didn't even talk to him."

    Special season
    Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett has been a Most Valuable Player candidate for years. This season, he has become the favorite.

    "They're winning more," Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "You always notice winners more. The last 44 games, they're 35-9. If you think about it, that's incredible.

    "He's been an MVP-caliber player for three or four years. Last year you could have made a case for him. Certainly this year, you could make a case for him. And he's got better players around him. The thing I love about him and (Tim) Duncan is (that) they inspire the people around (them). One's quiet, and the other is very outgoing, very demonstrative, but they inspire people."

    An MVP award would be a first, as would the division championship if the Timberwolves continue to hold off the Mavericks.

    But Van Gundy said they have a chance at a big first -- and he wasn't talking about winning a playoff series for the first time.

    "They could do it this year," Van Gundy said of winning the NBA championship. "When you're the first-ranked shooting team and the third-ranked field goal percentage defensive team, that's the balance that wins."

    The Timberwolves have the whole package. They have a superstar; role players who fit around the superstar; depth; players who are willing to take the key shot; and players that have made NBA finals shots (Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell.)

    Van Gundy added that they have "a great coach, a guy who's a really great coach."

    "One thing I think he did well with (Garnett), he developed him well. They brought in the right ingredients. ... They can go big at the three; they can downsize at the five, too."

  2. Dallas Rocket

    Dallas Rocket Contributing Member

    Jun 17, 2001
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    I thought Feigen did a really good job subbing for Calvin in the first half last nite. He jumped right in and offered some good insights working with Bill Worrell.

    And what Calvin went through was unbelievable!

    HUGE WIN!! Go Rox. Build on it :)

    D R
  3. gucci888

    gucci888 Contributing Member

    May 20, 2002
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    The one game I miss all season and it's the "best one." I heard Calvin missed half of the game, what happened?
  4. gucci888

    gucci888 Contributing Member

    May 20, 2002
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    nevermind, I just read it on Chron.com, sounds intense.

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