HOUSTON — Minnesota rookie forward Andrew Wiggins brought the fight to Rockets All-NBA guard James Harden time and again on Monday night, doing so with such frequency and ferocity that their game within the game ratcheted up the intensity of an overall frenzied, frenetic affair.
But it was Harden who fired the final salvo, capping his fourth career triple-double with a backbreaking 3-pointer that helped the Houston Rockets fend off the Timberwolves 113-102 at Toyota Center.
Led by Wiggins’ brilliant two-way effort, the Timberwolves (12-43) erased a 14-point, fourth-quarter deficit with an 18-5 run that included a Wiggins 3-pointer and three-point play, the latter with 4:03 to play.
The Rockets (38-18) responded by finally discovering their perimeter stroke, with Harden nailing a trey with 1:33 left for a 107-98 lead. Harden finished with 31 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists as well as a career-high-tying four blocks to offset Wiggins (30 points, six boards).
“He’s really good. He was the No. 1 overall pick,” Harden said of Wiggins. “He’s been having a really good season and he’s very talented.”
Rockets forward Terrence Jones, who made his return to the starting lineup after an eight-game stretch as a reserve that followed his return to active duty, added 15 points and 15 rebounds, including two crucial offensive boards that sealed the victory. Jones converted a tip-in with 3:05 remaining to stall the Minnesota comeback before converting a pair of free throws following his rebound of a Harden missed jumper.
Jones finished with nine of the Rockets’ 22 offensive rebounds, a game-high total. The Timberwolves corralled 20 offensive rebounds.
“I just want to make the winning plays,” Jones said. “I try to do all the little things. We’ve got guys that do a lot for this team like James having his triple-double. I just want to do a little bit to help us get over that stretch (of wayward play).”
Timberwolves guard Kevin Martin had 21 points while Minnesota bigs Nikola Pekovic (seven offensive rebounds), Gorgui Deng (five offensive rebounds) and Adreian Payne (five) combined for 17 offensive boards.
Wiggins’ defense on Harden set an early tone for Minnesota, with Harden missing all six of his first-period shots as Wiggins provided a stiff challenge with his exceptional length and complementary footwork.
But even with Harden scuffling, the Rockets ran to a 32-25 lead on a transition dunk from forward Trevor Ariza. Minnesota responded with a 9-0 blitz keyed by Martin, who tallied seven points during that run to the lead. Wiggins pushed the lead to 42-39 with his transition dunk at the 4:24 mark of the second and, when Martin followed a flubbed 4-on-1 Houston fast break with a four-point possession, Minnesota led 54-51.
“That’s the makeup of our team,” Martin said of the rallies. “We’re just not going to lay down. We fought back and I thought we had a chance to win and we just had a couple of plays that just didn’t go our way.”
Harden replied by converting a daring drive to the basket before nailing a 3-pointer with 0.03 seconds left to square the contest at 56-56 entering the intermission. The Rockets caught fire, nailing 4 of 9 3-pointers in the third quarter, but their 92-78 lead early in the fourth evaporated quickly once Wiggins got himself going yet again.
“I definitely look forward to these types of matchups,” Wiggins said. “Being a competitor, you strive for moments like this.”
NOTES: With Rockets G Patrick Beverley sidelined due to flu-like symptoms, G Jason Terry made his fifth start of the season. Houston also was without F Kostas Papanikolaou (right ankle sprain). … Rockets F Terrence Jones rejoined the starting lineup, replacing C Joey Dorsey. Jones started the first four games of the season before being sidelined 41 games with nerve damage in his left leg. Jones averaged 7.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in eight games off the bench. … Timberwolves F Shabazz Muhammad underwent successful surgery Monday morning to repair a ruptured ligament on his left middle finger. Muhammad, a viable Comeback Player of the Year candidate averaging 13.5 points and 4.1 rebounds, will miss the remainder of the season.
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