The Minnesota Timberwolves are back in this series. Their stars came out to play in a big way as they led the team to a dominant 121-105 victory over the Houston Rockets in Game 3. Jimmy Butler snapped out of his recent funk as he had a team-high 28 points, with seven rebounds, and five assists. Karl-Anthony Towns also put his horrendous first two games behind him as he had a terrific performance with 18 points and 16 boards. Perhaps more importantly, the Timberwolves’ supporting cast backed up their two stars. Jeff Teague (23 points, eight assists) and Andrew Wiggins (20 points, five rebounds, five assists) both put in excellent games, while Derrick Rose (17 points) had another massive impact off the bench.
On the other side, the Rockets were hardly at their best. James Harden had a quiet 29 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists, while Chris Paul had 17 points and six assists. Head coach Mike D’Antoni remarked that his two superstars haven’t really been at their best for a couple of months now, and it showed in a big way in this game. Their bench was also demolished significantly in this game. Gerald Green, who had 21 points and was a plus-21 in Game 2, had a mere ten points and was a team-worst minus-18. Meanwhile, the returning Ryan Anderson, who’s missed the last three months with an ankle issue, was a minus-12.
Three keys to the game
Rockets reaction - It’s been a while since the Rockets faced any sort of adversity. They steamrolled through the regular season, sealed the No. 1 seed with weeks to spare, and have been pretty much in cruise control ever since. But after that Game 2 defeat, they now have a reason to raise their game. Of course, the responsibility falls on their superstars, Harden and Paul, to lead by example and respond to their coach’s comments about their less-than-stellar play.
Wolves stars - It took a couple of games, but Butler and Towns finally snapped out of their disappointing play in the postseason. The question now is whether they can be able to sustain it. While Towns had a much better performance in Game 3, he still struggled with his shot, going just 5-of-13 from the field. But if those two can continue to play well, with some help from Wiggins and Teague, the Wolves have a strong chance of evening this series up.
Bench play - It seems strange to say, but the Timberwolves' bench has outplayed their Rockets counterparts in two out of the three games. A big part of that has been the surprisingly strong play of Rose, who has basically carried the Wolves reserves. But the Rockets’ reserves, particularly reigning Sixth Man of the Year Eric Gordon, have had a disappointing postseason which has not helped Houston’s cause. The Rockets will need Gordon - or another breakout performance from Gerald Green - in order to reclaim control of this series.
Matchup to watch
Clint Capela vs Karl-Anthony Towns - After his outstanding 24-point Game 1, Capela has been a less involved part of the Rockets offense over the past couple of games. That’s a bit surprising, since Capela is arguably the third most reliable offensive force on the team at the moment due to his ability to finish on the pick-and-roll. It will be interesting if the Rockets do decide to go back to Capela a bit more in Game 4 and counteract Towns’ resurgent play.
Rockets projected starting lineup
PG - Chris Paul | SG - James Harden | SF - Trevor Ariza | PF - PJ Tucker | C - Clint Capela
Timberwolves projected starting lineup
PG - Jeff Teague | SG - Jimmy Butler | SF - Andrew Wiggins | PF - Taj Gibson | C - Karl-Anthony Towns
After back-to-back quiet games, this could be the opportunity for Harden to finally return to his uber-aggressive self and go off for another 40-point game like he did in Game 1. And as previously mentioned, Capela could also see a bit more touches after getting just 15 points on 12 shots combined in the last two games.
As for the Wolves, Butler and Towns have the highest fantasy upside if they continue to play like they did in Game 3. But Wiggins has quietly been a strong fantasy option all series long. He’s averaging 17 points, six rebounds, three assists, and the occasional block and steal.
As good as the Timberwolves have shown they can be, the Rockets aren't losing two games in a row. Harden and Paul are too talented to let that happen, and they should come out with a lot more aggression in Game 4. Take Houston to bounce back on the road and cover the 5.5-point spread as favorites.
The Rockets take the Timberwolves' best shot but still come out on top in Game 4, 115-108.
This game will be broadcast on TNT. Tip-off is at 8:00 pm Eastern.