The one-eight NBA playoff matchup is generally supposed to be a cakewalk for the No. 1 seed. For the Rockets, the expectation was that they would do what they have done all season to Minnesota, namely mop up the floor with them. But things don't always go as expected and it took a herculean effort from James Harden and a brilliant performance from Clint Capela to hold off the spunky T-Wolves 104-101 in game one at Toyota Center Sunday night.
One down, 15 to go for a title, but there was plenty of winning and losing to go around.
4. Derrick Rose
Raise your hand if you weren't 100 percent sure the Derrick Rose playing for Minnesota was the Derrick Rose, the former all star, rookie of the year and league MVP. Brutal injuries have derailed Rose's career, but for at least one night, he had some of his step back (16 points in 23 minutes). He joined the T-Wolves midseason and appears to have regained enough of his previous form to be a thorn in the side of the Rockets.
3. Clint Capela
For much of the first half, it appeared no one was planning on guarding Capela. He has 20 points and 10 rebounds by halftime. And not just on the back half of alley oops (though a lot of them were), Capela showed some moves around the bucket and hustled on the boards all night. He finished with a playoff career high 24 points to go with 12 boards and three blocked shots. His defense around the rim, particularly against Karl-Anthony Towns, was a huge difference maker as well.
2. Bartolo Colon/Justin Verlander
Not to cram a baseball story in here, but Colon rode a perfect game into the eighth inning against the Astros. He ultimately allowed only one run on a single hit in seven and two-thirds innings. Verlander went eight, striking out 11 and allowing only one hit, a home run in the first inning. Both were absolutely stellar. Unfortunately, the Rangers picked up the win in extra innings.
1. James Harden
The MVP race has been sewn up for weeks, but the question of how Harden would perform in the playoffs has been up for debate given his previous struggles. On Sunday night, he was the MVP, carrying the Rockets on his back when no one else could shoot straight. At one point in the fourth quarter, he was responsible for 14 points on six straight possessions, 12 of those from him. He was 7-12 from three and finished with 44 points and 8 assists.
4. The Timberwolves if Andrew Wiggins is their leading scorer.
For as athletically gifted as Wiggins is, he is not nearly as good as he seems to think based on his game of constantly going to the rim and firing up ugly three pointers. He had 18 points on 7-15 shooting, but took some ill-advised shots and launched four more shots than Jimmy Butler, six more than Towns. The T-Wolves aren't going to win that way.
3. Karl-Anthony Towns
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Speaking of Towns, one of the best young players in the NBA was a virtual zero on Sunday, scoring just 8 points on 3-9 shooting. He did manage 12 rebounds, but his game was completely off. Some of it may have been due to the interior defense of Capela, but he never looked comfortable on the floor. That won't last.
2. Rockets three point shooters.
No one looked less comfortable, however, than any Rocket shooting a three not named James Harden. Harden was 7-12 from distance. The rest of the team was...wait for it...3-25. The Rockets, one of the most prolific three point-shooting teams in the history of the NBA shot 12 percent from beyond the arc if you don't count their star player. It is unlikely they will shoot that poorly again in the playoffs. Fans better hope so anyway.
1. Chris Paul
We take it back. There was one person less comfortable than Rockets three point shooters and that was CP3. He only went 1-6 from three, but did finish with 14 points, most in the second half. But all night he looked out of sorts. In the waning moments, he threw away a pass that gave the Timberwolves a chance to tie the game. Fortunately, Butler missed his three, but it was one of Paul's 6 turnovers on the night. The rest of the team turned it over only 5 times. He will want to forget this one.