The new-look Minnesota Timberwolves faced the Houston Rockets for the first time since being eliminated from the first round of the playoffs last season. Yet the score at the half was not the only reason for concern, as being outscored by 14 in a quarter was only the beginning of veteran Taj Gibson’s ire.
“You get frustrated with how they play, how they were laughing during the game,” Gibson told Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. “That’s a talented team and it was just pissing us off.”
The Rockets were indeed laughing their way into a win, with James Harden putting up 22 points on merely seven shots, enjoying a parade to the free-throw line and using Capela’s rim-running to throw the Wolves off guard.
Even new signing Danuel House Jr. was bombing away from outside, giving a massive deja vu from last season’s playoff series.
“We played them in the playoffs. I kept reminding guys, ‘Remember how that felt in that playoff series and we were losing,’” said Gibson. “We couldn’t forget that and needed to come out better.”
Yet the initiative could just come from a veteran, but also another young star reflecting those same emotions.
Enter Karl-Anthony Towns.
“We screamed at each other about how we wanted to fix our mistakes on defense and how we were as a group going to do it before Thibs talked to us,” said Towns. “And we went out there and did it.”
The Timberwolves proceeded to clamp up on defense and quickly erased their 14-point deficit in the third quarter, turning it into a four-point lead to start the fourth. Minnesota wasn’t done.
Towns and new teammate Robert Covington put a defensive clinic in the fourth period, limiting the high-octane Rockets to only nine points, walking away with a sound 103-91 win.
“Guys were letting their voices be heard,” said Gibson. “The fact that we played that team last year and we played them the last couple games of the playoffs. We understood that we had to take it personal.
“In the young generation, a lot of games come down to guys being free and easy. And that was a free and easy game in the first half. We had to remind guys that we’re playing for something. That’s a team that really embarrassed us in the playoffs. We can’t let that slide.”
The Timberwolves have climbed back above the .500 mark for the first time this season, going from a hapless 4-9 record with Jimmy Butler on the team to 13-12, now only a tiebreaker away from sneaking into the playoffs for a second straight year.