MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — When the shots weren’t falling and the energy was low, James Harden put his head down, went hard to the basket, and carried the young Houston Rockets to another win.
Harden scored 17 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter, and the Rockets rallied to win their fifth straight, 87-84 over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night.
Harden’s drive to the basket gave Houston (16-12) an 85-84 lead with 39 seconds left. He drove again to push the lead to three with 11.7 seconds to go and scored 15 of the Rockets’ final 17 points.
“When he’s playing downhill on you, he’s just a monster at that. He’s coming at you,” Houston coach Kevin McHale said. “It’s just so hard to defend. He’s got the side-step, Euro-step, driving into you. He’s so doggone strong. He’s really got strong hands. He mauls the ball through your armpit and finds a way to finish.”
Omer Asik added nine points and 17 rebounds for the Rockets, who edged the Wolves after beating their previous three opponents by at least 22 points.
The win might not have been as pretty as other recent Rockets’ victories, but they will take it.
“We were kind of sluggish throughout the game. We stuck with it for four quarters,” Harden said. “Every game we’re not going to score the ball, we’re not going to make shots every single game. In different games you have to grind it out and try to force a win.”
Alexey Shved shot an airball on a 3-point attempt at the buzzer that could have tied it for the Timberwolves.
J.J. Barea scored 18 for Minnesota (13-13), and Shved added 16. Kevin Love had 12 rebounds, but scored just seven points — all in the first quarter — on 3 of 14 shooting. He missed all seven of his 3-point attempts.
It’s been a grind for Love since he returned from a broken hand in late November.
“People are meant to get out of slumps,” he said.
Minnesota has lost four of five, and has been beaten six times after starting the fourth quarter with a lead.
It was McHale’s first game back in his home state since his 23-year-old daughter, Sasha, died on Nov. 24 of complications from lupus.
The former Timberwolves executive, coach and television analyst dabbed his eyes with a towel as the Target Center crowd cheered after his name was called during pregame introductions.
The Wolves led 60-46 after going on a 25-6 run to close the first half and start the second.
Most of that spurt took place without Nikola Pekovic, who left early in the second quarter because of an illness and didn’t return until late in the third.
The Rockets cut the deficit to 64-61 after three quarters before Harden re-entered the game and calmly led the Rockets all the way back.
“We went cold. Any time you go cold like that, seven, eight minutes, the other team is going to get confidence going,” Barea said. “We did a bad job of stopping them at the end, we did a bad job executing, and we missed open shots. That’s the game.”
Asik pumped his fist and confidently nodded his head as he trotted back down the court after Harden dropped in his final basket.
It was the perfect contrast to Harden, who didn’t show much emotion behind his trademark beard and stared ahead confidently.
“I just wanted to be aggressive when I got in the game,” Harden said. “Up to that point, I hadn’t really done anything.”
With the Rockets up 85-84, Barea drove the lane, but was stripped by Carlos Delfino.
Harden scored on the ensuing possession.
Chandler Parsons had 12 points, and Delfino had 11.
“To sum everything up, that was not how we wanted to play, but we’ll take the win,” McHale said.
McHale also was close with Michael Stephenson, a 42-year-old man who died of pneumonia last week. Stephenson couldn’t walk or talk after being born with cerebral palsy.
Stephenson and McHale became friends in the early 2000s, and Stephenson appeared in the Timberwolves’ 2002-03 team photo.
The team held a moment of silence for Stephenson before the game.
NOTES: Rockets forward Chandler Parsons injured his left knee Tuesday in a win over the Bulls, but played more than 35 minutes on Wednesday. … The announced attendance was 20,340, the third-largest crowd in Target Center history.
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