More Signs of Life

Rockets 92, Timberwolves 86 Season Record: 10-37

The Houston Rockets came into town as winners of seven straight road games. The Wolves were defending a four-game home winning streak. Something would have to give. And while it was the Wolves who flinched first, the game was hardly a head-hanger.

First, a few plaudits: Sebastian Telfair looked downright effective all throughout the game. His numbers, as they say, speak for themselves: 12 assists, zero turnovers. He also took only seven shots, hitting three. “He did the simple things,” Wittman remarked after the game. Although he missed the one that mattered most. But we’ll get to that.

Shaddy, despite getting a bit mouthy during a timeout huddle in the second quarter, was the offensive shot in the arm the Wolves need him to be off the bench. He’s hitting 42 percent of his threes this year, good for 16th in the league. On Monday, he was 3-6 from downtown and 6-14 overall for 15 points. And yet, though he played tight defense against Tracy McGrady down the stretch, it wasn't enough. We'll get to that, too.

And then there was Al Jefferson. The degree to which the team’s offensive game is now revolving around the big man is remarkable. It has been more and more the case of late, but last night’s game is a particularly good example. Jefferson took 26 of the team’s 77 shots, hitting 14 of them—a dizzying array of 15-footers, up-and-unders, floaters in the lane, and dunks. He was hitting from everywhere. He also pulled down 16 boards and had three stuffs.

And he was doing all this while guarded by Yao Ming, who at 7’6” has eight inches on him. On at least three occasions with Yao on him, Jefferson, about 15 feet from the basket, turned to face it. On each occasion, Yao, not wanting let Jefferson blow by him, dared him to shoot. And on each occasion, Al drained the jumper. It was tantalizing stuff, the kind of thing that shows that Jefferson, on nights like these when he’s on, is pretty much unstoppable.

And yet. The game went in the loss column.

Here’s how it ended: With just over two minutes left, Jefferson hit one of those “I dare you” jumpers over Yao to give the Wolves an 86-85 lead. On the return trip down the floor, Carl Landry, the Rockets’ backup power forward who gave the Wolves fits all night long, was stuffed by Jefferson. But as Ryan Gomes took the ball up the court, he stumbled, took an extra step, and got called for traveling. His first turnover of the night, and one of only two for the Wolves in the fourth quarter.

On the return trip, with McCants’ hand blocking his view of the basket, McGrady nailed a 17-footer. 87-86. And after Telfair missed a tentative jumpshot on the return trip that would have given the Wolves a one-point lead, McGrady again got the ball, and again, with those half-sleepy eyes shielded from the basket by McCants’ hand, drilled the shit out of his jumpshot. This time it was a three, the Rockets were up 90-86 with half a minute left, and the game was over.

Future Game Notes: This Friday is supposed to mark Kevin Garnett’s return to the Target Center, as the Celtics make their lone appearance in Minneapolis this season. But a gimpy abdomen seems likely to keep Garnett out of the game. Which is a shame, of course, because it’s the most anticipated Wolves game of the season, and their only game airing on ESPN.

Jefferson, asked after the game about the possibility of KG sitting out Friday, said it was probably the right thing to do. “This isn’t the biggest game of the year for them at all,” he said. “It’s not like it’s a playoff game.”

As a player, of course, he’s right. But as a fan, we're hoping the Big Ticket will give us our money’s worth on Friday.

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