MINNEAPOLIS — James Harden gave Houston quite the jump-start with 22 of the team’s 50 points in the third quarter, as the Rockets cruised past the Minnesota Timberwolves 119-100 on Monday night to take a 3-1 lead in their first-round playoff series.
Chris Paul scored 15 of his 25 points in the near-record third for the Rockets, who turned a 50-49 halftime edge into a 31-point advantage after the torrid 12-minute span. The only team in the history of the NBA playoffs with more points in one quarter was the Los Angeles Lakers, who scored 51 points in the fourth on March 31, 1962, in a loss to the Detroit Pistons.
The all-time record for any game was set by the Buffalo Braves with 58 points in the fourth quarter of a loss to the Boston Celtics on Oct. 20, 1972.
Harden finished with 36 points on 12-for-26 shooting, Clint Capela added 14 points and 17 rebounds, Eric Gordon finally got going with 18 points off the bench and the Rockets easily recovered from their rough start.
Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points and 15 rebounds for the Timberwolves, who were dominated on both ends of the floor during the decisive third and missed 14 of 21 shots over several panicked possessions.
The Timberwolves rebounded from their two defeats on the road by matching the Rockets with 15 makes from 3-point range in Game 3, a startling development considering the Rockets led the league in that category during the regular season and the Timberwolves were last.
They wisely took another tack for Game 4, attacking the basket in the first half with relentless abandon and plenty of success while Towns watched most of the first quarter from the bench after picking up his second foul less than three minutes into the game.
Derrick Rose, who finished with 17 points and six rebounds, was the catalyst off the bench with multiple muscle-his-way-in layups on both fast breaks and in the half court. Starting point guard Jeff Teague, meanwhile, had only two points on 1-for-7 shooting while fighting through an injury to his right pinky finger.
The Wolves were in front by as much a 36-29, but with as poorly as the Rockets were shooting they needed a larger lead than that. They went 21 for 44 from the field (47.7 percent) in the first half, but with all the layups and putbacks in the mix they easily could have made more.
Trevor Ariza made the first three 3-pointers tried by the Rockets, who then missed on 13 of their next 14 tries from behind the arc. Harden didn’t make a basket until 5:57 remained in the second quarter, when his 10-foot floater fell in to cut Minnesota’s lead to 39-37. He swished one of his signature step-back 3-pointers on the next possession, and Houston was right back in front to sow the seeds for the staggering third quarter.
Just like in Game 2, the Rockets raced out of the gate after the half. Harden scored 17 of their first 20 points. Wolves star Jimmy Butler, on the other hand, started forcing off-balance shots. Teague and Paul, the two former Wake Forest point guards, engaged in some intense trash talk. Paul baited Teague into a pushing foul for a pair of add-to-the-pile free throws.
Gordon tacked on another 3-pointer at the buzzer for the 100-69 lead.
The last time the Timberwolves were in the first round of the playoffs in 2004, their opponent was Denver and Nene was a 21-year-old starter for the Nuggets. This is his 16th season in the NBA, the second with the Rockets.
Rockets: Ariza finished with 15 points.
Timberwolves: Backup point guard Tyus Jones was available on an emergency-only basis because of a sore right knee. Rose played 33 minutes. … Butler (19 points) and Andrew Wiggins (14 points) combined to shoot 12 for 31 from the floor.
The series shifts back south to Houston for Game 5 on Wednesday night.