Jimmy Butler, Timberwolves Cruise Past James Harden, Rockets to Make Series 2-1

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorApril 22, 2018

MINNEAPOLIS, MN -  APRIL 21: Jimmy Butler #23 of the Minnesota Timberwolves handles the ball against the Houston Rockets  in Game Three of Round One of the 2018 NBA Playoffs on April 21, 2018 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)
David Sherman/Getty Images

Jimmy Butler scored 28 points, Jeff Teague added 23 more and Karl-Anthony Towns posted 18 points and 16 rebounds as the Minnesota Timberwolves defeated the Houston Rockets 121-105 in Game 3 of their first-round NBA playoff series at the Target Center in Minneapolis on Saturday.

Andrew Wiggins contributed 20 points, five assists and five boards for Minnesota, while Derrick Rose got hot off the bench with 17 points on 8-of-16 shooting.

James Harden paced the Rockets with 29 points, while Chris Paul scored 17 points and dished six assists. Eric Gordon led the Rockets off the bench with 15 points.

The main difference in this game was the increased usage of Butler and Towns. The duo combined for just 35 field-goal attempts in the first two games, but they shot the ball far more often in Game 3. Butler went 10-of-19 from the field and hit four three-pointers. Towns made just five of his 13 shots, but he was able to get to the free-throw line, making all seven of his shots there.

As Tim MacMahon of ESPN noted, Butler, who fought through a left ankle injury suffered in the first half, set the tone early with his aggressiveness:

This one-hander from Butler in the first quarter broke a 16-all tie:

Towns didn't take a shot in the first quarter, but he began to find his groove in the second quarter and never let up. After fighting off Rockets center Clint Capela, Towns slammed the ball home to give the Wolves a 31-28 edge:

The third quarter proved to be the matchup's turning point: Towns and Butler combined for 15 of Minnesota's 35 points in the frame and were the catalysts in turning a 52-51 halftime edge into an 87-75 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

Towns continued to do work down low, completing an and-1 following a feed from Tyus Jones to give the Wolves an 82-72 lead late in the third:

The former Kentucky Wildcat star led a sensational Minnesota effort in the paint, as the Wolves outscored the Rockets 50-40.

Minnesota opened the fourth quarter with a 9-2 run to extend its advantage to 19 points and never looked back. Houston cut the lead to as few as nine points, but Butler and Jeff Teague combined for nine straight points in response to help Minnesota run away with the win. Teague in particular had an excellent fourth quarter, and Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic offered praise:

This marked the Timberwolves' first playoff victory since 2004, which also doubles as their last postseason appearance.

The two teams will play the fourth game of their best-of-seven series on Monday at 8 p.m. ET in Minneapolis, where the Timberwolves are now 31-11 on the season. As Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle noted, a return home has clearly rejuvenated the Wolves after two tough losses in Houston to open the series:

Houston currently leads Minnesota 2-1. TNT will broadcast the Game 4 matchup.

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