Yes, they were thinking about it. During a fourth-quarter huddle, coming out of a time out, Rickey Rubio said it. So did coach Tom Thibodeau.
Remember last time.
Less than a month ago the red-hot Houston Rockets came to Target Center riding a nine-game winning streak, trailed Minnesota by 12 points with 2 minutes and 20 seconds left in regulation, then came back to break the Timberwolves hearts in overtime.
So Wednesday, up 20 early in the fourth quarter against a Rockets team riding another nine-game winning streak, that Dec. 17 game was a reference point. A rallying cry. Or, as Rubio said, “a ghost.’’
Don’t be scared. This time the Wolves kept executing down the stretch in a 119-105 victory that ended the Rockets’ streak in the Minnesota cold and gave the Wolves (13-26) their second straight win.
And their second winning streak of the season.
“I’m not going to joke with you,’’ said Karl-Anthony Towns, who scored 23 points grabbed 18 rebounds and had five assists, including one Aaron Rodgers impersonation (his reference point, by the way) after a fullcourt pass to Andrew Wiggins for a score.
“When we got to the fourth quarter, up by that kind of lead, you can’t let it slide. Last time we gave ’em one. We did a great job of staying disciplined. I can finally smile in front of you all. It’s good to see us keep a lead.’’
There was so much to smile about.
The Wolves shot 54.3 percent and held the Rockets to 41.4 percent. Sure, the Rockets (31-10) were playing on the second night of a back-to-back and were limited a bit by injury; through three quarters they were a very uncharacteristic 8-for-28 on threes.
But, playing without the injured Zach LaVine, the Wolves got enough stops early and enough well-earned baskets late to keep the Rockets at arm’s length.
Finally hitting from long range, Houston cut that 20-point Wolves’ lead to 12 on Ryan Anderson’s put-back with 2:26 left.
But this time Towns found Shabazz Muhammad for a three, and the pressure was off. For the second straight game the Wolves had built a lead and kept it.
“You don’t want to make it more than it was, but I think it’s good,’’ Thibodeau said. “It showed more toughness than we had the last time.’’
Wiggins scored 28 points, including 15 in the Wolves’ 30-point first quarter. Brandon Rush hit on four of seven three-pointers starting for LaVine, with three assists and three steals. Ricky Rubio topped his 15-assist performance from Monday with a 17-assist, 10-point, 1-turnover game Wednesday, tying his franchise record for assists.
And then there was the bench. Muhammad scored 20, Nemanja Bjelica eight. After the Wolves ended the third quarter on an 8-2 run to go up 12, Bjelica scored six points as the bench opened the fourth on an 8-0 run to push the lead to 20.
“They were terrific,’’ Thibodeau said.
Wiggins, meanwhile, helped limit James Harden — who came into the game with back-to-back 40-point triple-doubles, to 33 points on 10-for-23 shooting (2-for-11 on threes). Ryan Anderson scored 18, Trevor Ariza 16.
It was, frankly, probably the most complete victory of the season for Minnesota.
“Probably,’’ said Rubio, who has 32 assists, 23 points and four turnovers in the past two games. “But now we have to be solid. We have to keep doing this. It’s not just one game. We have to keep it going all season long.’’