A playoff series that, according to a trusty adage, didn’t really begin until Houston’s dizzying 119-100 decision over the Timberwolves on Monday at Target Center now is only one more Rockets victory from ending.
Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni repeatedly said these past days that a playoff series doesn’t begin until somebody wins on the other team’s court, and the Rockets did so for the first time in this one with a stunning third-quarter blitz Monday that approached the historical.
Leading by only a point at halftime, the Rockets outscored the Wolves 50-20 in the third quarter, one point shy of the 56-year-old NBA playoff record for a quarter. James Harden scored 22 of his 36 points in the quarter.
“We scored 50 points,” he said. “I don’t know what else to say.”
Just like that, the Wolves return to Houston trailing this best-of-seven series 3-1, with a potential final Game 5 set for Wednesday at Toyota Center.
“It’s the first team to four,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said, “and we have to respond.”
The Rockets responded Monday by answering the Wolves’ energetic 121-105 victory in Game 3 with their near-record quarter, which followed an erratic first half. The NBA postseason record for points in a quarter is 51, by the Los Angeles Lakers vs. Detroit on March 31, 1962. The Pistons were outscored by 21 in the fourth quarter and still won in Game 5 of the Western Division finals.
D’Antoni said he set a 50-point quarter as a goal when he took over the team at training camp two seasons ago.
“First of all, it’s a good time to do it,” D’Antoni said. “We’ve been talking for two years about putting a 50 piece up. It starts on the other end, with intensity and the right spirit. We’ve got enough shooters. Things eventually will go in.”
Harden shot 7-for-10 with three three-pointers in that third quarter while Target Center persistently reminded him with their chants that he stinks.
“I like to hear stuff like that,” he said. “It’s the playoffs, they’re supposed to. They just say it because hopefully it makes them feel good, I don’t know.”
Harden’s All-Star backcourt mate Chris Paul scored 15 points in the quarter himself and 25 in the game.
“We didn’t take anything away from them,” Wolves All-Star guard Jimmy Butler said. “They got whatever shot they wanted, whether it be a three, layup, free-throw line. Whatever happened, they scored 50 points in a quarter.”
It was a Rockets franchise record for most points in a quarter, and the 30-point differential also matched the largest for any single quarter in NBA playoff history.
All of it angered Wolves guard Derrick Rose, who had 17 points in 32-plus minutes after starter Jeff Teague temporarily left the game when he dislocated his pinkie finger in the first quarter and then popped it back into place.
“I’m sorry, I just lost,” Rose said. “I’m kind of mad about that. James is MVP. He had everything working.”
Some of the Wolves fans who remained to the end stood and applauded, in what might have been the team’s final home game this season.
“It’s disappointing we didn’t give our fans what they wanted to see, what we wanted to see ourselves,” Wolves center Karl-Anthony Towns said. “They brought the energy tonight. We didn’t bring as much energy as we needed. It’s not our fans’ fault. It’s our fault.”