Hired hands have instant impact in Wolves win over Houston

  • Article by: KENT YOUNGBLOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 20, 2013 - 11:40 AM

Chris Johnson and Mickael Gelabale brought intensity, along with a much-needed victory.

Raise your hand if you could have envisioned this scene:

The fourth quarter of a Timberwolves game at Target Center. Chris Johnson -- Chris Johnson? -- steps to the line and, amid chants of "MVP'' ringing down from the stands, cans two free throws.

OK, again: Chris Johnson?

On Saturday morning the Wolves, battling a devastating injury bug, signed Johnson and Mickael Gelabale to 10-day contracts. And then, with nothing but a morning shootaround under their belts, never having worn a Minnesota uniform in a regular-season game, the dynamic duo went out and basically won the game.

In a 92-79 victory over Houston -- one that ended a five-game losing streak -- Johnson scored a career-high 15 points. Gelabale had 11, his first NBA points in nearly five years. Together, they scored the Wolves' first 23 points of the fourth quarter. When it was over, the Wolves had gotten a much-needed victory in the strangest way imaginable.

"That's why we signed 'em, right?" asked Andrei Kirilenko, who had a game-high 21 points. "That's why we got 'em."

Afterward, in the Wolves locker room, J.J. Barea went to Johnson and shook his hand. It was unclear whether he was offering congratulations or introducing himself. A few feet away Luke Ridnour -- Gelabale's teammate in Seattle many years ago -- clapped Gelabale on the back and said, "I told 'em, Jelly. I told 'em."

What a night.

For the record, yes. Johnson -- who, to be fair, did spend some time in the Wolves training camp last fall -- heard the MVP chants. And he appreciated them, though he found them rather odd. "I heard it, I heard it," said Johnson, days removed from the Development League. "I didn't agree with it, but I heard it. Guess that shows how intense the fan base is here."

Both of the newcomers were intense. The Wolves, up 12 late in the third quarter, allowed Houston to close the quarter on a 10-2 run to pull within four entering the fourth quarter. The Rockets got as close as three, once, early in the fourth.

But Johnson and Gelabale took the game over. The two scored 23 of the Wolves' 29 points in the fourth, got eight of the team's 17 fourth-quarter rebounds and, together, the two hit on 11 of 13 fourth-quarter free throws. Johnson had 13 of his 15 points in the fourth, Gelabale 10 of his 11.

"In the first half, I was looking, looking at how we play," said Gelabale, a native of France who was playing in Spain less than a week ago. "In the second half, I enjoyed it more. Ricky [Rubio] made the game easy for me, very easy."

Johnson scored the Wolves' first eight fourth-quarter points. Then Gelabale scored the next five. All Johnson was doing was setting picks and rolling to the hole. Gelabale was trying to find some space, knowing the guards would find him. Simple stuff, really.

And, on the other end, Johnson defended the rim and got six boards. Gelabale helped hold Rockets star James Harden to 18 points on 5-for-18 shooting on a night when Houston lost its seventh game in a row.

"It was awesome," said Barea, who added 11 points off the bench. "That was exactly what we needed. They're great guys, and they came in and tried to help us win. I've never seen anything like it."

Rubio, playing a season-high 30 minutes, had seven points and six assists. Ridnour (16) and Derrick Williams (11) were also in double figures.

"Both of them have played in this league, so they know what they're doing," Ridnour said. "Still, to be able to come in, with no practice and do that? Pretty amazing. Very amazing."

  • WOLVES 92, HOUSTON 79 • Up next: 1 p.m. Monday at Atlanta • No TV (830-AM)

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