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The first round of the NBA playoffs continues today with four more Game 1s. Follow along here for the latest analysis and commentary from The Post’s NBA reporter Tim Bontemps, and ask him questions in the comments section.There was a big debate in the closing days of the NBA’s regular season over whether LeBron James could surpass James Harden for the NBA’s MVP award.
Harden’s play Sunday, however, showed why he should win the award.
In a game that was there for the Minnesota Timberwolves to steal (more on that in a second) Harden’s ridiculous performance — 44 points on 15-for-26 shooting with eight assists — ensured that the Houston Rockets wouldn’t let them do so, and claimed a 104-101 victory in Game 1 as a result.
That said, Chris Paul did his best to try to give the game back to Minnesota anyway.
Capping a truly miserable game (14 points on 14 shots, four assists
six turnovers), Paul threw an insane pass that went out of bounds with nine seconds left when all he had to do was hold the ball, get fouled and make a free throw to seal the win for Houston. Instead, he gave the ball back to the Timberwolves down three, with a chance to tie the game.
In a game of terrible one-upmanship in the final seconds, Jimmy Butler then brought the ball up and — with Rockets Coach Mike D’Antoni
his team to foul, and them ignoring him — Butler flung up a turnaround jumper with his foot over the three-point line (meaning it would have been a two) that didn’t come close to going in.
It was a fitting end to a chaotic final 15 seconds of what was an otherwise very entertaining game — one that Harden made sure his Rockets came away from victorious.The pressure is on the Houston Rockets.
Entering the playoffs, no team had more expectations heaped on it than Houston, which has been installed as the first credible challenger to Golden State since Kevin Durant left Oklahoma City for the Bay Area.
With those expectations come a need for the Rockets to back them up — and that’s with a star backcourt of James Harden and Chris Paul, who have their own history of playoff struggles.
Harden (31 points, seven assists) has
Anyone watching the TNT broadcast of Rockets-Timberwolves can hear Chris Webber losing his mind every time Karl-Anthony Towns fails to take advantage of a switch with a smaller defender on him. The “Inside The NBA” crew said the same thing at halftime.
They have a point.
A constant criticism of the Timberwolves all season has been the team’s inability to get Towns more involved in the offense. Towns
quite possibly the most gifted offensive big man in the history of the sport, with the ability to score from the rim to well beyond the three-point arc.
So how is it that he only has six points on eight shots — the same or less than Jeff Teague, Jamal Crawford
Minnesota, which finds itself trailing 76-72 after three quarters, needs that to change if it wants to pull off the Game 1 upset.
When it comes to the Houston Rockets, there is — understandably — lots of talk about James Harden and Chris Paul and volume three-point shooting.
But what sums up why the Rockets are leading halfway through Game 1 against the Minnesota Timberwolves — and why I picked them to win in four games — is the play of Clint Capela.
Houston’s center — who is going to get paid handsomely as a restricted free agent this summer — has 20 points, 10 rebounds and two blocked shots at halftime, partnering with Harden to relentlessly batter the Timberwolves into submission in the pick-and-roll.
Anyone who watched Minnesota’s final regular season game against the Denver Nuggets could see how much trouble Minnesota had stopping Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic in the pick-and-roll. And, for as good as those guys are, Houston is on another level entirely.
The Rockets have proven that so far tonight – and that’s why they lead 54-47 at halftime.
far. Paul? Not so much (12 points on 14 shots, plus three assists and four turnovers). Lose this
and all the questions about how this team will hold up when the pressure mounts will come flooding back.