HOUSTON – Newly hired Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey arrived with his Massachusetts Institute of Technology education about the time Tom Thibodeau and his boss Jeff Van Gundy were told to leave a decade ago.
In the years that passed, neither Thibodeau nor new Houston coach Mike D’Antoni could have imagined how simple mathematics and the revelation that three is more than two would change the Rockets or the NBA.
The Rockets’ 142-130 victory over the Timberwolves Saturday night, though, told the story as well as anything.
In a league now where a high-percentage layup is good and a three-pointer is much better, the Rockets attempted 58 three-pointers Saturday, three away from their franchise record of 61.
They sent the Rockets and MVP candidate James Harden on to a 42-18 record, the league’s fourth best.
The Rockets made 22 threes on Saturday to the Wolves’ nine. Do the math yourself and that’s a 66-27 point advantage.
What would you expect from a team that was already lopsided with three-point shooters when it went out and acquired another, veteran Lou Williams, from the Los Angeles Lakers at Thursday’s trade deadline?
The Rockets on Saturday buried the Wolves under an avalanche of threes even though the great and bearded Harden made just one of his first nine shots. He also scored only three points before he made his first three of the night two minutes into the third quarter.
Harden followed by making four threes and scoring 15 points in the third quarter alone on his way to finishing with 24 points and 10 assists.
Young Wolves star Andrew Wiggins, meanwhile, surpassed Kevin Garnett’s team record by scoring at least 20 points in a 17th consecutive game. He scored 30 points, while Karl-Anthony Towns had 37 points and 22 rebounds for his 14th consecutive 20-point game as well.
Only Garnett, Wiggins and Kevin Love have had such streaks longer than that.
Leading by 11 points early but only by one point early in the second quarter, the Rockets made four threes in a 16-0 run that gave them a 57-40 lead with 5 ½ minutes left before halftime.
When the Wolves battled back within two points early in the third quarter, the Rockets kept hoisting threes, until they led by 18 points again before third quarter’s end.
D’Antoni coached ahead of the proverbial curve with a Phoenix team a decade ago that played Amar’e Stoudemire at center, Shawn Marion at power forward and asked Steve Nash to orchestrate everything, winning two consecutive NBA MVP awards on the way.
But even D’Antoni never saw this coming.
“I don’t think you sit down 10 years ago and say, ‘It’s going to look like this someday,’ ’’ D’Antoni said before Saturday’s game. “You just try to coach the way you feel you can get the most out of the team you have. In Phoenix, we had that unique team where we put the five best players on the floor … A little bit of luck, a little of having the right personnel and everybody buying in and it worked out obviously.”
Thibodeau attributes a transformed league to defensive rule changes in the early 2000s intended to showcase offensive skills.
“It changed the game in a significant way,” Thibodeau said before Saturday’s game. “You see small forwards playing power forward and of course the evolution of the center, where they’re shooting threes now also.
‘‘When you study analytics from a math standpoint, it makes a lot of sense. I was here when Daryl first came here. It’s something he believed in strongly.
“The Rockets always have been at the forefront of that, but the entire league also has shifted in that direction.”