James Harden, Rockets Explode for 50-Point Quarter, Crush Timberwolves in Game 4

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistApril 24, 2018

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - APRIL 23:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets and Jimmy Butler #23 of the Minnesota Timberwolves look on in Game Four of Round One of the 2018 NBA Playoffs on April 23, 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

The Houston Rockets took a 3-1 series lead over the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs with a 119-100 win Monday night at Target Center in Minneapolis.

James Harden scored a game-high 36 points, while Chris Paul had 25 points, six rebounds, six assists and five steals.

Karl-Anthony Towns was the lone bright spot for the Timberwolves, as he registered a double-double (22 points, 15 rebounds). Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins combined to go 12-of-31 for 33 points.

The Rockets broke the game open in the third quarter, outscoring the Timberwolves 50-20 to open up a 31-point lead heading into the final 12 minutes. ESPN Stats & Info noted only the 1961-62 Los Angeles Lakers scored more points (51) in a single quarter in the postseason.

Harden had 22 points on his own, which set a franchise playoff record for most points in a quarter, according to the Houston Chronicle's Jonathan Feigen.

Even the Timberwolves' official Twitter account couldn't hide its disgust with how quickly things went off the rails:

It was quite a turnaround for Houston after a somewhat sluggish start. Harden missed his first seven shots, and the Rockets connected on four of their first 15 attempts from beyond the arc:

Minnesota did well to hold the Rockets to 50 points in the first half, down slightly from the 58.6 first-half points Houston averaged in the regular season. But the Timberwolves still trailed by a point heading into the locker room at halftime.

SB Nation's Mike Prada highlighted how Minnesota had been living dangerously before Houston's offensive explosion to start the third quarter:

As good as the Rockets were playing on offense, their defense may have been even better. Houston smothered Butler and limited Towns' touches inside. Clint Capela in particular was excellent defensively, as he could match up with Towns and hold his own against Butler when he switched onto the Minnesota All-Star guard.

The Timberwolves announced Jeff Teague jammed his finger in the middle of the game, which only made things more difficult for Minnesota.

Teague clearly wasn't himself and finished with two points on 1-of-7 shooting. And on defense, Teague's injured finger also left him unable to fight through screens, which allowed Houston more open opportunities on the perimeter.

Although the Timberwolves have a day to regroup from this defeat before they take the court again, it's hard to see a way back for them in the series. They pushed Houston hard in Game 1 and took Game 3 at home, but Monday's result may be the kind of loss that takes the air out of Minnesota's balloon.

Then there's the fact that the Timberwolves need to win three straight games—including two on the road—against a team that earned 65 victories in the regular season. And the Rockets haven't lost back-to-back games since falling to the Golden State Warriors and Detroit Pistons over a three-day span in January.

Seven of Minnesota's eight playoff trips in franchise history have ended in the first round, and the team looks destined to make it eight of nine after falling apart Monday night.

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