A series that was solely in the Rockets’ favor in Houston took a turn in Game 3 in Minnesota.
Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni was his usual calm self after the 121-105 loss on Saturday, but he knows his team will have to match the Timberwolves’ intensity in Game 4 on Monday night in Minnesota.
“Yeah, it’s disappointing,” D’Antoni said after Houston lost its first game of the series and just the third in 23 meetings against Minnesota. “But, hey guys, you have a playoff series and they’re a good team. They played better than we did today. We’ll make some adjustments. We’ll figure this out.
“On Monday, we’ll have to match their intensity. If we don’t, we’ll get beat again. It’s pretty simple.”
Driven by the Target Center crowd that hadn’t witnessed a home playoff game since 2004, the Timberwolves pulled to 2-1 in the seven-game series with the top-seeded Rockets. Jimmy Butler scored 28 points, Jeff Teague added 23 and Minnesota hit 15 3-pointers in Saturday’s win.
The Timberwolves, who hit the fewest 3s per game in the NBA during the regular season, matched Houston’s total. The Rockets led the league in 3s per game in the regular season.
“They’re a great team,” Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We know we’re going to have to play better on Monday. I think we’re capable of playing better. We’re learning more each day.
“We learn. We improve. Same thing, we know we can’t feel too good about ourselves. We have to get in tomorrow, study the film, get ready. We know Monday will be an intense game.”
The Timberwolves hope they’ve found a combination to be able to keep up with the Rockets. Minnesota’s defense, which was among the worst in the league during the regular season, has slowly come around and helped trigger a big second half on Saturday.
From Karl-Anthony Towns engaging defenders down low to power forward Taj Gibson defending James Harden one-on-one resulting in a poor shot attempt, the Timberwolves’ defense effort became contagious team-wide.
The Rockets shot 47.5 percent from the field in the second half but had seven turnovers and were just 6 of 19 (31.6 percent) from 3.
“We’re a young team in playoff experience, so we’re growing, getting better every game,” Teague said. “Tonight we took a big step. I think we picked up our intensity and played a lot harder, but it’s still a long way to go.”
Minnesota also got Towns more involved on the offensive end. His lack of shots has been a topic all series. The All-Star center had nine shots in each of the first two games of the series and scored a total of 13 points.
On Saturday, he had 18 points, including 12 in the second half.
“I think it is a sense of patience,” Towns said. “First quarter, I don’t think I shot a shot. So it’s letting the game come to me naturally, not trying to rush and trying to find shots. Letting the shots find me and my teammates were amazing.”
Harden scored 29 points and Chris Paul had 17 points and six assists, but the Rockets now need to make an adjustment.
Houston wants to get back to its defensive approach and limit Minnesota as it did in the first two games of the series. The Timberwolves averaged 91.5 points per game in the first two games and shot just 38.8 percent from the field in Game 2.
“We knew that was going to be a lot more comfortable coming home,” Paul said. “They make a lot more 3s tonight, 15 for 27, and we got to be better defensively. We were just opening up the lane and letting Teague drive and all the other guys, so we know we got to be better.”
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