HOUSTON - Newly hired General Manager Daryl Morey arrived in Houston with his Massachusetts Institute of Technology education about the time Tom Thibodeau and his boss, Jeff Van Gundy, were told to leave a decade ago.
In those passing years, neither Thibodeau nor new Houston coach Mike D’Antoni could have imagined how mathematics would change the Rockets or the NBA.
The Rockets’ 142-130 victory over the Timberwolves on Saturday night, though, told the story as well as anything.
In a league where now a layup is good and a three-pointer is much better, the Rockets attempted 58 three-pointers Saturday — just three off their franchise record of 61 — and made 22 of them.
The Wolves clobbered them on the backboards 58-31, whupped them in second-chance points 29-15 and points in the paint 68-44. Young stars Andrew Wiggins (30 points) and Karl-Anthony Towns (37 points, a career-high 22 rebounds) continued their personal streaks of 20-point games, Wiggins surpassing Kevin Garnett’s franchise-best streak of 16 such games by getting his 17th straight on Saturday.
Yet Towns headed directly for the weight room after the game, venting frustrations over a loss after his team scored 130 points by clanging and banging weights. George Bridges, Associated Press Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins (22) drives between Houston Rockets guard James Harden, left, and Trevor Ariza in the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017, in Houston. (AP Photo/George Bridges)
The Wolves started a winding four-game road trip losers largely because they committed 25 turnovers and were outscored 66-27 on three-pointers made.
“It’s a different type of basketball,” Wolves point guard Ricky Rubio said. “They’re changing the way to play. They’re playing fast, shooting the ball. The first five, six seconds and it’s almost all threes and layups. You have to be ready for that.”
After trailing by 13 points in the first quarter, the Wolves drew within a single point early in the second quarter before the Rockets simply made four three-pointers during a 16-0 run that gave them a 17-point lead before halftime.
When the Wolves pulled within three points twice early in the third quarter, the Rockets started hoisting — and making — threes again, all the way to an 18-point lead by quarter’s end.
The closest the Wolves came when it mattered most was eight points. They protested a call that never came when Rockets forward Trevor Ariza collided with Wiggins when the Wolves had the chance to get closer.
“Big play, didn’t go our way, it’s part of the game, move on,” Thibodeau said afterward. “We score 130 points. That’s plenty of points. Turnovers got us.”
The common denominator when the game careened back and forth: The Wolves pulled near with their starters on the floor, faded when they weren’t.
Thibodeau was asked if he feels like the mythical man pushing the boulder up a hill when the Rockets take 58 threes and make 22.
“No, that’s what they do,” he said. “Yep.”
What would you expect from a team that already was lopsided with three-point shooters when it went out and acquired another, veteran Lou Williams, from the Lakers at Thursday’s trade deadline?
The Rockets on Saturday buried the Wolves under an avalanche of threes even though the great and bearded James Harden made just one of his first nine shots. He also scored only three points before he made his first three of the night two minutes into the third quarter.
Harden followed by making four threes and scoring 15 points in the third quarter alone on his way to a 24-point, 10-assist night.
D’Antoni coached ahead of the proverbial curve with a Phoenix team a decade ago, but never saw this style of game coming.
“I don’t think you sit down 10 years ago and say, ‘It’s going to look like this someday,’ ’’ D’Antoni said before Saturday’s game. “You just try to coach the way you feel you can get the most out of the team you have.’’
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