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3-pointers: Takeaways from the Rockets' Game 4 win in Minnesota

Houston Chronicle logo Houston Chronicle 4/24/2018 Jonathan Feigen

Video by CBS Sports

At some point, they are not "good shots" if they don't go in. The Rockets had not reached that point.


Generally, when teams miss the sort of shots the Rockets were missing in the first half on Monday, there is a sense that eventually, good shots would bring good results. The Rockets could not have been so sure.

They had missed those shots for long enough to close the season and start the series, the usual shots might not have seemed so good. But the Rockets have excelled at sticking with what they do with unshakable confidence. They had a 65-win season to build that belief in themselves and their style, but the playoffs tend to test faith.

The Rockets spent much of Monday's first half getting open 3s and layups with relatively little reward. But they were still open 3s and layups. Get enough of those and good shots usually become made shots.

When they began to fall, with James Harden going from an 0-for-7 start to a 22-point third quarter, the Rockets rode that wave to a 50-point quarter, one point shy of the NBA playoff record set by the Lakers in 1962 and the top scoring quarter ever in the playoffs by the road team. There was energy in the offense, with the ball moving rapidly, Harden alternately attacking the paint and burning the Wolves' decision to go under screens on him.

The Rockets' blowout win gave them a 3-1 series lead. Other than their five-game losing streak in December with Chris Paul out, the Rockets have not lost three straight all season. They have not lost two straight since the first week of January when Harden was out. Eventually those sorts of trends, like the one that says good shots eventually go in, usually hold up.

1. Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni spoke for several weeks about the Rockets lacking the "fear" of losing. With nothing at stake in the standings late in the season, this was understandable. With the Rockets holding a 2-0 series lead after a blowout, it became a problem. The Rockets paid to the get that back with a Game 3 loss, but by the time they struggled to a one-point halftime lead on Monday, that urgency had been as clearly recaptured as it was vital.

The Rockets' third-quarter blast of the Timberwolves reached record-book levels when James Harden went for a franchise playoff record 22 points as Harden, Chris Paul and Eric Gordon combined to make 8 of 10 3-pointers. But the Rockets intensity, driven by the urgency for the occasion, had been turned up dramatically. They knew how much was at stake, felt threatened and responded.

That was why they kept pointing to their defense when asked about the greatest scoring quarter in franchise post-season history. The Rockets choked off the Wolves break (they allowed two fast-break points in the quarter) and took care of the boards (giving up two second-chance points) and blew the game open with a 27-5 burst. As remarkable as it might have been to score 27 points in 6 ½ minutes, some of that was made possible by holding the Wolves to five and taking all those defensive rebounds the other way.

That intensity showed in everything they did, from the energy offensively to the execution to score those 50 third-quarter points without a turnover. But more than take control of the game and series, it might bode well for the challenges of the post-season to come. If this is how the Rockets respond when they feel threatened, it could be a good sign for the next time, or at least better prepare them for it when it comes.

2. Perhaps this is the difference between James Harden now and then. He was an MVP-caliber player before this season, when he was his best. He had plenty of phenomenal post-season games, despite those that will label him by the final elimination game, rather than the other ones. But throughout the season, there has seemed to be a confidence and comfort level in Harden and in his game that went beyond what he had been before.

Harden opened Monday's game with seven-consecutive missed shots. He had a terrible Game 2. He was good, but certainly not his sort of great in a bad Game 3 loss.

On Monday, he was more than 18 minutes into the game before he had a field goal. But there was never a feeling as if he would let any of that bother him. He has often said he would make the same shots he was missing, but it seemed that way even before he took off. Even when he finally made just a couple buckets, a floater in the lane and a step-back 3, he seemed ready to take off.

Harden was reliably getting in the paint, but had often seemed unsure early of whether those drives should end with him lobbing passes to Clint Capela or seeking to finish. When he returned to the game, he began moving with greater purpose, dictating what he wanted to take from those drives, rather than searching to see what he could find. With the Timberwolves going under screens, he put up 3s as if he did not know he had been missing.

By now, Harden should have confidence. But it's one thing to play that way when things are going well. He did it when he was struggling, and put himself in the Rockets' record book again.

3. As much the Rockets had their defense and superstars rolling, the play of a pair of veteran shooters around them keyed the win in different ways, and could prove important in the games to come.

Trevor Ariza scored the Rockets' first 11 points, hitting his first three 3-pointers. Though he scored just four more points the entire game, the way the Rockets began the night, had they also been without his fast start, they could have found themselves climbing out of a hole considerably deeper than seven points. Eric Gordon, who had struggled greatly with his shot in the first three games, got going, making 6 of 14 shots to score 18 points, including eight in his five minutes in the 50-point third quarter.

Neither were as hot throughout the game as they were in their key bursts. But both are greatly important to what the Rockets became this season; Ariza as the reliable 3-and-D small forward ideal next to Harden and Paul, and Gordon as backcourt scorer that is just one too many for opponents already dealing with the Rockets starters.

Both played significant roles in the blowout win, and reminded of how important they remain to the Rockets' hopes to be their best.

Related slideshow: 2018 NBA playoffs (Provided by photo services)


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