Timberwolves dominate Rockets in 2nd half for first playoff win since 2004

For two games, Minnesota Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns was a no-show for their playoff series against the Houston Rockets.

For two games, the Timberwolves came up short of their first playoff win since 2004.

Both of those things changed on Saturday. Towns had by far his best game of the series with 18 points, 16 rebounds and two blocks as Minnesota cut its series deficit to 2-1 with a dominant 121-105 win to keep hope alive in Minneapolis of a competitive series.

Towns’ game comes on the heels of a combined 13 points in the first two games in which he hesitated to shoot the ball and seemed confounded and beaten by the athleticism of Rockets center Clint Capela and physicality of forward P.J. Tucker. He looked scared to shoot, and when he did, he only made 5-of-18 attempts.

Whether it was the energy of the home crowd, a change in strategy or just a concerted effort to score the ball, Towns looked more like his typical self as one of the NBA’s most dynamic and exciting young post players on Saturday.

But it wasn’t all Towns on Saturday by a long stretch. Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague both had big games, while Derrick Rose looked like, well, Derrick Rose circa 2011 in limited time off the bench.

Butler led the way with 28 points, seven rebounds and five assists, while Teague posted 23 points and eight assists.

But it might have been Rose that got the Target Center most excited, showing burst and athleticism not often seen since his knees started failing him en route to 17 points in just 21 minutes off the bench.

For the Rockets, it’s a concerning loss in a series where they haven’t looked great in their wins. Houston was an historically potent offensive team during the regular season, and has looked liked anything but through three games, failing to break the 105-point threshold. This is a team that averaged 112.4 points during the regular season.

But it was the Rockets’ defense that failed them on Saturday as the Timberwolves looked more like the Rockets from distance, hitting 15-of-27 (55.6 percent) of their three-pointers while shooting 50 percent from the field.  The Timberwolves averaged eight made three-pointers in the regular season with a 36.2 percent success rate. Minnesota outscored Houston 35-24 in the third quarter to extend a one-point halftime lead and never looked back.

James Harden led Houston with 29 points, seven assists and seven rebounds on 9-of-21 shooting, while Chris Paul totaled 17 points and six assists before fouling out late in the fourth quarter.

While the game isn’t sounding alarm bells that the Timberwolves could pull of an historic upset, it should raise a yellow flag that the Rockets have some adjustments to make.

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Minnesota Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns, left, is double-teamed by Houston Rockets’ PJ Tucker, right, and James Harden in the first half during Game 3 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Saturday, April 21, 2018, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)