HOUSTON — There was an undeniable inevitability in the Houston Rockets finally unleashing their full potential offensively Youth Pavel Zacha Jersey
, with the only legitimate ambiguity being exactly when it would happen.
That moment arrived without warning in the third quarter of Game 4, with Houston producing a 50-point outburst that staggered the Minnesota Timberwolves and gave the Rockets control of their Western Conference first-round playoff series. Houston used that eruption to propel it toward a 119-100 victory on Monday night at the Target Center, giving the Rockets a 3-1 lead in the series. It also gave Houston the opportunity to conclude the series at Toyota Center in Game 5 on Wednesday night.
The Rockets had trudged along on offense even while establishing a 2-1 series lead, averaging a pedestrian 103.7 points entering Game 4 while producing a modest 31.5 percentage on 3-pointers. Houston flirted with statistical immortality during the regular season, ranking among the most efficient offenses in league history before losing its edge over the final weeks of the schedule, specifically after the Rockets clinched the top seed in the West at the end of March.
Over their final six regular-season games, the Rockets posted an offensive rating (101.3) that ranked 26th in the NBA. That lagging momentum carried over into the playoffs until the second half on Monday when the Rockets broke free from their lethargy and reclaimed their identity.
“We talked about it going into the game about being aggressive, and I think we all just tried to do that,” said Rockets guard Chris Paul, who paired 25 points with six assists in the victory.
“Just the entire team, we were confident,” said Rockets guard James Harden, who scored a franchise playoff-record 22 points in the third quarter en route to a game-high 36. “We had a good talk (Sunday) Sergei Bobrovsky Jersey
, a good practice (Sunday). And even most of the guys stayed after practice just to shoot, shoot the basketball and be aggressive. We had the mentality to be aggressive. Make or miss shots, that’s what we do. We shoot the basketball, and eventually, they start falling.”
In producing the second-most points in any quarter in NBA postseason history, the Rockets not only pushed the Timberwolves to the brink of elimination, they put Minnesota in the precarious position of having to acknowledge what has been obvious all along. The Timberwolves’ defense wasn’t explicitly responsible for the Rockets’ wayward perimeter shooting entering Monday, and when Houston converts open looks at an average clip — the Rockets shot 16 of 43 on 3s — the Timberwolves are essentially helpless at stopping the deluge.
As postseason series extend, team identities solidify. The Rockets reclaiming their offensive rhythm was as predictable an outcome as the Timberwolves showcasing their defensive warts.
Minnesota closed the season ranked 22nd in defensive efficiency (108.4), with the foundation of its four losses to the Rockets set on the defensive end. It might be easy to dismiss a 50-point period as an anomaly, but the reality of the Rockets’ offensive momentum can’t be denied. The Timberwolves staved off the inevitable for three-plus games and are now left to hope that the Rockets will start missing again in order for this series to include a return trip to Minneapolis.
“How many points did they score in the third? Fifty? Exactly,” Timberwolves guard Derrick Rose said. “Do we even have to say something? It can be seen easily what happened in the game and why they took off. Our job is to look at film, see what our mistakes were Nate Thompson Jersey
, and try to execute a little better on the defensive end.”
Said Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns: “You’ve got to give it to them. There’s a reason they’re the team they are.”
As he squares off against first-round draft pick Kolton Miller almost daily in training camp, Oakland Raiders rookie defensive end Arden Key rarely uses the same move twice.
On one play, Key takes a jab-step inside then spins around to Miller's outside shoulder and speeds past the big left tackle. A few moments later, Key bull-rushes his way between Miller and another offensive lineman with little resistance.
It's not an indictment of Miller so much as it is a credit to Key, the Raiders' third-round draft pick who has been one of the early stars in training camp.
"We love Key," Oakland coach Jon Gruden said Monday. "We've liked Key ever since the draft process. We felt lucky to get him where we got him. There's some things this kid can do that are very special. Hopefully, we get full strength someday at the defensive end position and we can show our true colors."
Gruden was referring to defensive end Khalil Mack, who is entering the final year of his contract and is holding out for a new deal.
Mack, the 2016 defensive player of the year, has been the Raiders' best pass-rusher for the past four seasons. In hopes of giving him some help up front, the team used three of it first six draft picks to acquire Key along with defensive tackles P.J. Hall (second round) and Maurice Hurst (fifth round).
Oakland also moved Bruce Irvin from outside linebacker to right defensive end, the same position as Key. The two men formed a close bond, with Irvin serving as a mentor to Key.
Irvin compares Key to Aldon Smith Patrick Marleau Jersey
, the talented but troubled former Raiders linebacker who had 33 陆 sacks in his first two NFL seasons before off-field issues forced him out of the league.
Like Smith, Key wears jersey No. 99.
"He's a really natural rusher," Irvin said. "He reminds me a lot of the old 99 that was here. If he keeps his head on straight, which he will, he's going to be a hell of a player and a hell of a player for the Raiders. Can't wait to see what he's going to do this year."
Irvin is among a number of Oakland players and coaches who have repeatedly praised Key during camp.
The 22-year-old has tried to keep it all in perspective. Key buries his head in the playbook and has been pouring over film of other pass-rushers, trying to find new tricks to add to his arsenal of pass-rush moves.
"I look at a lot of pass-rushers to try to steal some of their moves and try them in one-on-one," Key said. "If it works it works and if I like it, it's going to stick with me."
Getting around an offensive tackle, Key said, is much like a chess match.
"I always work on one move first and see if he beats it," Key said. "If he beats that then I'm going to counter with something else. If he beats my counter move then I've got to counter with another counter."
The Raiders have also had Key lining up in the three-technique over a guard, giving the defense more speed for the interior rush.
"He's a stud, I'll put it that way Alex Goligoski Jersey
," linebacker Tahir Whitehead said. "He's big, he's strong, he's athletic. He can go inside, he can go outside. I'm excited to see him go out there in the first game and let it rip."
As for his ongoing battles against Miller, Key said the competition has been heating up between the two rookies.
"Kolton gets better every day," Key said. "From the first day we went against each to now, it's just gotten so much better. Now I have to dig in my tool box to try to pick different moves to use on him."
Notes: The Raiders will host two joint practices with the Detroit Lions beginning Tuesday. . RB DeAndre Washington has left the team for personal reasons but is expected back soon. . The team waived defensive back Shaquille Richardson and signed cornerback Raysean Pringle. . Gavin Newsome, a candidate for California governor, attended practice and chatted with owner Mark Davis.
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