Rockets 105, Timberwolves 77
McGrady scored 16 of his 32 points in the third quarter, but his slam off a rebound late in the first period was the shot that had even Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy applauding.
“I don’t dunk that much. My body can’t take it like that anymore,” McGrady said. “It was just one of those inspiring plays, man. Plays like that, you lead your team, you inspire your team.”
McGrady missed seven of his first nine shots, then swooped in after Chuck Hayes botched a layup in the final minute of the opening quarter. McGrady grabbed the ball and threw it down in one motion over Mark Blount, putting the Rockets up 21-15.
“The tip dunk he had was, to me, just so inspirational,” Van Gundy said. “His play and when he leads like that, with that fire, good things happen.”
The basket was part of a 20-6 Rockets run and Houston stayed in control the rest of the way, putting together one of its best performances of the season, just two days after a lifeless 87-74 loss to New Orleans.
Van Gundy canceled a scheduled practice on Sunday and was more animated than usual on the sideline Monday night, repeatedly clapping and complimenting players as they came off the floor.
“I loved the way we played, the energy level we had,” he said.
Luther Head went 5-for-7 from 3-point range and scored 20 points, and Juwan Howard had 20 points and eight rebounds for the Rockets, who’ve won nine of 13 games since an overtime loss to the Timberwolves in Minnesota on Jan. 7.
Kevin Garnett had 18 points, 12 rebounds and five assists for Minnesota, which has lost 10 of its last 12 games and four in a row. The Wolves are 2-6 since Randy Wittman replaced fired coach Dwane Casey on Jan. 23.
Wittman ripped his team after Monday’s loss, especially his guards, who combined to commit 12 turnovers.
“Our guard play was atrocious,” Wittman said. “There was no direction at all. I didn’t recognize what we were doing offensively.”
McGrady, meanwhile, topped 30 points for the 13th time this season and the 11th since Dec. 23, when Yao Ming broke a bone in his right leg. Yao is likely out until March, but due mostly to McGrady, Houston is 14-6 since that injury.
The Rockets had lost four of their last five home games against the Timberwolves. McGrady made sure that didn’t happen again.
“It was one of those games where your best player had to step up,” McGrady said. “They had to see how badly I wanted this one.”
Garnett did not score in the first quarter, missing three shots. The Timberwolves started 6-for-20.
Howard hit seven of his first eight shots, including his first three of the second quarter. Rafer Alston, ejected from the Rockets’ loss to New Orleans on Saturday, converted a steal into a three-point play during the 20-6 spurt, which ended with Houston up 34-19.
Garnett ended Minnesota’s 4-minute scoring drought with his first basket with 6:50 left in the first half.
But after Garnett banked in a shot over Dikembe Mutombo, the Rockets finished the half with a 14-2 spurt. Head capped the run with a fast-break layup and a pull-up 3-pointer that put Houston up 50-30 at the break.
McGrady was 6-of-10 in the third quarter, all of them long jumpers—and he had a good time doing it.
He playfully spanked Wittman after swishing a shot in front of the Wolves’ bench with 3:12 left. Then, he high-fived fans in the front row after beating the buzzer with another jumper that gave Houston an 82-52 lead heading to the fourth quarter.
Head, fifth in the league in 3-point shooting, sank his fourth and fifth 3-pointers early in the final quarter to keep Houston in control.
“That’s the type of team we need to be, night in, night out,” McGrady said. “We’ve got to be one of those teams that understands how good we really could be. Tonight, it really showed.”
McGrady sat out the fourth quarter and tossed T-shirts to the crowd during a late timeout.
The Timberwolves’ point totals in the first quarter (15) and first half (30) were season lows. … Garnett leads the NBA with 41 double-doubles. … Rockets guard Bonzi Wells collided with rookie Craig Smith on a drive in the second quarter and left with a back injury. He did not return to the game. … The Rockets went 4-1 on their season-high, five-game homestand.