HOUSTON -- Rockets coach Kevin McHale toed the line between frustration and madness on Friday night at Toyota Center. After the final buzzer sounded he was able to laugh over the wild swings of emotions.
The Rockets avoided what would have been their most inexplicable setback of the season, mustering a spirited second-half comeback and dashing past the short-handed Minnesota Timberwolves, 108-100.
Houston guards James Harden and Jeremy Lin combined for 61 points and 16 assists, helping the Rockets (36-30) erase a 20-point, third-quarter deficit and maintaining their lead over the Lakers (35-32) in the Western Conference standings. The Lakers won at Indiana earlier Friday night.
"We got ourselves in a big hole ... and that's hard to come back out of those," McHale said. "We don't want to do that. That was a very dangerous game for us.
"They were making me mad tonight. They normally just frustrate me. Tonight they made me mad. There's a difference. The first version I'm living with; the madness, I've got to get off of that."
The Rockets received fourth-quarter boosts from Greg Smith and Chandler Parsons, whose 3-pointer with 63 seconds left supplied the Rockets their first double-digit advantage. Harden had 37 points, Lin scored 24, Parsons finished with 14, and Smith had 10 of his 12 in the fourth quarter. The Rockets outscored the Timberwolves 69-43 in the second half, producing a remarkable 68.6 field goal percentage.
Derrick Williams and J.J. Barea scored 19 points apiece to lead six Timberwolves in double figures. Minnesota guard Ricky Rubio posted 14 points, seven rebounds and seven assists for the injury-riddled Timberwolves (22-41), who had with nine available players.
"Maybe we were running out of gas," Rubio said. "These kinds of games you can see who wants to win and who doesn't want it. I know they're fighting for a playoff spot but our chances are basically over. But we can't play like that."
The Rockets initiated their comeback immediately after the Timberwolves grabbed their biggest lead of the night at 59-39 following a Greg Stiemsma baseline jumper 19 seconds into the third quarter. Sparked by four third-quarter 3-pointers, the Rockets cut the deficit to 65-58 before stalling a bit as the Timberwolves rebuilt their lead to 10.
Minnesota responded to every Harden and Lin push with timely baskets from Mickael Gelabale, Rubio, Barea and Williams. But the Rockets were undaunted, rallying via improved ball security. Houston committed three of its 18 turnovers in the second half and didn't allow a point off a turnover after surrendering 20 before the break.
"Earlier in the season we would have let this game slip away," Harden said. "We know how important it is with 16 more games left, how close this is in the race for the playoff seeding that we couldn't let this one get away, especially at home."
Given the Timberwolves' depleted roster, their sizable advantage was shocking. Their starting frontline, reserves under normal circumstances, combined to shoot 10-for-15 in the first half. Stiemsma, Gelabale and Williams totaled 22 points, grabbed nine rebounds and doled out six assists. And what remained of the Timberwolves' bench wasn't too shabby, with Barea leading a unit that produced 24 first-half points.
Minnesota not only shot 55 percent prior to intermission, it also limited the Rockets to just two fast-break points. Houston failed to get its transition offense on track, but that didn't hinder its ability to rally late.
"We just didn't play well in the second half," Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman said. "They got control of the game and Harden got to the basket on us and took control of the game.
"Obviously it's very hard stopping (Harden)."
NOTES: The Wolves were without forward Kevin Love (hand), forward Andrei Kirilenko (calf) and center Nikola Pekovic (abdominal). ... With the Miami Heat having joined the Milwaukee Bucks (20 games, 1970-71), Los Angeles Lakers (33 games, 1971-72) and Rockets (22 games, 2007-08) as the only franchises to manage 20-plus-game winning streaks, Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman shared perspective from leading Houston on its run. The Rockets' average margin of victory during their streak was 12.3 points, including nine consecutive double-digit wins starting Feb. 21, 2008, against, coincidentally enough, the Heat. "It kind of came out of nowhere. Our guys weren't in the picture," Adelman said. "It just shows you our guys got on a roll and they had a lot of confidence and they played it night after night after night. I look back on it and it was a great, memorable experience for everybody on that team, especially for me." ... Harden has labored through a sore right foot for more than a week. While he has yet to miss any games, the impact of his discomfort is noticeable. "He can still facilitate from (the perimeter), it's just not as dynamic," McHale said. "He's at his best when he's breaking down defenses, putting a lot of pressure on the defense, getting fouls and attacking the rim and playing basketball in that downhill style that he plays."