James Harden and the Rockets snatched away the Wolves' hope with one historic quarter

Dan Devine

For a little while there, James Harden couldn’t get anything to drop on Monday. Coming off a loss in Minneapolis on Saturday night, the NBA’s presumptive 2017-18 Most Valuable Player opened Game 4 of his Houston Rockets’ first-round series against the Minnesota Timberwolves ice cold, missing his first seven shots from the field against the fierce defense of Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins and Taj Gibson, among others.

Without a revved-up Harden to ignite their high-powered offense, as he has all year long, the Rockets sputtered to just 21 first-quarter points and 38 percent shooting in the first half. The hosts entered intermission trailing by one, right in the thick of things and believing they might be just 24 minutes away from sending this 1-vs.-8 matchup back to Texas knotted up at two games apiece.

And then, the second half started, and Minnesota’s hope stopped.

The Rockets absolutely annihilated the Wolves after intermission, scoring 50 points in the third quarter to bury the hosts under a barrage of buckets that turned a tight game into a dismal disappointment for the fans in the stands at Target Center. After what amounted to 12 minutes of garbage time, the Rockets cruised out of Minnesota with a 119-100 win that gave them a commanding 3-1 lead in the series.

The remarkable third-quarter offensive display — 14-for-23 shooting, 9-for-13 from 3-point range, 13-for-13 at the foul line — gave the Rockets the second-highest scoring quarter by any team in NBA playoff history:

It all started, as everything has for Houston this season, with Harden staring down a defender and deciding to burn him to the ground.

After getting himself unstuck with 10 points on 4-for-7 shooting in the second quarter, Harden opened the third with a dance-and-drive past cross-matched center Karl-Anthony Towns all the way to the cup for a layup. Then, he drew Gibson into fouling him on a 3-point attempt, sending him to the line for three freebies. From there, he was off, going full-fledged Human Torch to the tune of 22 points on 7-for-10 shooting, including three triples, in the third alone — a Rockets franchise record for most points in a single postseason quarter.

With Harden leading the charge and the Clint Capela-led defense smothering Minnesota’s actions all over the court, the Rockets absolutely incinerated the Wolves in the third, needing only half a quarter to turn a one-possession game into a blowout. By the time Eric Gordon’s buzzer-beating long ball splashed through as the quarter-ending buzzer sounded, the Rockets had equaled their first-half output in just 12 minutes of basketball, hanging half-a-hundred in the third quarter to take a 31-point lead into the fourth and leaving everyone in a Wolves jersey — whether on the bench or in the stands — feeling the exact same way Towns did.

Harden finished with a game-high 36 points on 12-for-26 shooting to go with four rebounds, four steals, three assists, one block and only one turnover in 33 minutes of work. Superstar running buddy Chris Paul, who scored 15 in the deciding frame, added 25 points, six rebounds, six assists and five steals in the win. Capela (14 points, 17 rebounds, four blocks, three assists) and Gordon (18 points in 30 minutes off the bench) also shined for Houston, who can now close the eighth-seeded Wolves out back home in on Wednesday night.

Towns fought through early foul trouble to turn in his second consecutive solid outing, scoring 22 points on 9-for-15 shooting with 15 rebounds to pace Minnesota. Butler chipped in across the board, scoring 19 points with seven rebounds and five assists, while Derrick Rose (17 points on 7-for-11 shooting, six rebounds, four assists) once again contributed energy and rim-pressing activity off the Wolves’ bench as Minnesota hung with the West’s No. 1 seed through two quarters of play. Unfortunately for Tom Thibodeau’s club, though, they played four on Monday night, and now the Wolves will have to figure out how to get a rolling Rockets team off-kilter once again to have any hope of extending their first postseason trip in 14 years.

James Harden isolates against Karl-Anthony Towns and prepares to attack. (Getty)
James Harden isolates against Karl-Anthony Towns and prepares to attack. (Getty)

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Dan Devine is a writer and editor for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@oath.com or follow him on Twitter!

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