On Saturday, playoff basketball made a thunderous return to Target Center. The Minnesota Timberwolves shocked the Houston Rockets with a definitive 121-105 victory.

The good

Once again, Andrew Wiggins proved that he is the best version of himself in the playoffs. He is the only Wolves starter to play well in both of the first two games of this series.

Wiggins continued his hot streak on Saturday, putting up 20 points on 7 of 11 shooting. He also hit four of his six 3-point shots, along with five assists, five rebounds, a steal, and a block.

Defense

In addition, Wiggins was an integral part of Minnesota’s excellent defense in Game 3. Despite the fact that the Rockets returned to their average of 36 percent on 3-point shooting, the Wolves still held them to just 105 points. Houston has scored 112.4 points per game this season. Minnesota has only allowed them to score an average of 103.7 during this series.

Part of this is that the Rockets are on a cold streak, but three games of scoring struggles means it’s not all luck. The Wolves aren’t leaving shooters open and are getting crucial defensive stops. They have the most defensive rebounds and 3-point contests per game this postseason. In addition, Minnesota has allowed Houston just 7.7 points per game on fast breaks, which is the fewest in the league during the playoffs.

The Timberwolves’ most important defensive feat in Game 3 was their excellent job on James Harden. The likely 2018 NBA MVP scored 29 points, but it took him 21 shots to get there. He had four turnovers and was a minus three for the game.

Bench impact

While it was the Wolves’ starters who stole the show, there were a few bench performances worth noting. Gorgui Dieng had five points, two steals, and two assists despite playing just nine minutes. He was 2 of 3 from the field.

During the fourth quarter, Ryan Anderson set a screen that forced Dieng onto Harden. Rather than getting his ankles broken as one would have expected, Dieng stole the ball and euro-stepped past Harden for a dunk. The crowd at Target Center went absolutely berserk for Dieng, who has played the most games for the Timberwolves since their last playoff appearance in 2004.

Derrick Rose had yet another a great performance in Game 3. Despite a solid effort in the opening minutes, Minnesota trailed by one as the second quarter began. Rose entered and was the spark that the Wolves needed to prevent this game going the same way as Game 2. He had 10 points in eight minutes, and when he left the game four minutes remaining in the half, Minnesota led by 11.

Rose finished the game with 17 points and two steals, giving him a total of 42 points for the series.

The bad

There really wasn’t a whole lot of bad in this game. The Wolves had few turnovers, shot efficiently, and played solid defense. The one problem is that their excellent performance is unlikely to be sustainable. Minnesota shot an incredible 15 of 27 from three, which they will be hard-pressed to replicate in Game 4.

The great

The Wolves’ 3-point shooting was great for two reasons. First, they took a high volume of shots. In order to keep up with the Rockets’ barrage of threes, Minnesota needs to take a lot of long-range shots per game. Secondly, they were exceptionally efficient; the Wolves hit 56 percent of their 3-point shots.

In addition, Karl-Anthony Towns looked like the All-Star we know and love after being virtually absent from the first two games of this series. He didn’t take a shot during the first quarter due to Houston’s effective double-teaming. Later in the game, however, KAT finally found his rhythm. It wasn’t the most efficient performance; Towns was 5 of 13 from the field. It was worth it, though, because he was looking for shots and being aggressive for the first time during this series.

Towns finished the game with 18 points, 16 rebounds, two blocks, and a steal.

KAT wasn’t the only one who had his mojo back. Jimmy Butler, who has been struggling with injuries, finally played with the grit and energy we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from him. He had 28 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, and a steal in this game, but his impact goes deeper than the box score.

“He’s out there giving it his all,” Jeff Teague said of Butler, per the Pioneer Press. “He’s a helluva player. He’s the heart and soul. When he’s out there competing, it rubs off on everybody.”

A different atmosphere

It would be a disservice to everyone involved if the fans weren’t mentioned when describing this game. Historically, the Target Center has been home to some of the most dispirited and booing-prone fans in the league. For the first time in 14 years, the Timberwolves faithful witnessed playoff basketball in their home arena, and the energy was tremendous.

Each fan was given a “Howl Towel,” reminiscent of the great homer hankies that waved the Minnesota Twins to their 1987 and 1991 World Series victories. Filled with aggressively waving towels and an exuberant crowd, Target Center was unrecognizable as the glum arena of the past decade.

Game 3 was the anniversary of hometown hero Prince’s death and the fans went ballistic as the opening to his song “When Doves Cry” was played at the opening tip. The players fed off the contagious energy. Teague, usually so calm and collected, ran up to the crowd and pounded his chest after hitting a three. Even stoic Taj Gibson raised his arms and hyped up the crowd after a Timberwolves run.

It was impossible to hear Wiggins’ postgame interview in the arena because the crowd was still screaming so loud. “The atmosphere was amazing,” Wiggins said. “The fans were into the game the whole time. They got us going. The momentum was there.”

“This city deserves to be in the playoffs a little bit longer,” Butler added after the game, per the Pioneer Press.

Keys to victory in Game 4

1. Keep raining threes

It’s unlikely that the Wolves will shoot 56 percent again, but that doesn’t mean they should take less. In order to keep up with the Rockets, Minnesota has to keep shooting threes. Throughout this season, Houston has shot just .5 percent better on long-range shots, so there is no reason why the Wolves can’t come close to matching them from three.

2. KAT and Butler must stay aggressive

Towns and Butler are the keys to this team. Without great performances from the two of them, it will be tough to match-up with Houston. Both players need to be aggressive, even if their shots don’t fall at first. The other players feed off their energy, making Butler and Towns’ presence doubly important.

3. Former MVP Derrick Rose

Rose has been stellar in this series. He no longer looks like the unathletic, unhappy player he was earlier this season. Rose’s prime may be behind him, but at least he’s finally recognizable as the great player he once was. His production from the bench and surprisingly decent defense have been crucial for the Wolves’ during this series. Minnesota will need him to keep hustling and shooting efficiently if they are to have a chance in Game 4.

Game 4 is on Monday, April 23 at 7 p.m. CT in the Target Center.

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Author Details
Content Creator at Armchair Minnesota Timberwolves , The Armchair All-Americans, LLC
I hail from the frigid land of Minnesota. This means the majority of my favorite teams have seen little to no success, but the Lynx do a great job picking up the slack. I’m a die-hard Timberwolves fan and I’m lucky to be witnessing their best team since the Kevin Garnett era. I have loved writing since I was a little kid, and I’m so excited to get the opportunity to write about the NBA. When I’m not focusing on my basketball obsession, I’m spending time with my dogs or horse. Follow me on Twitter @Katie_Nelson40 for some stellar basketball discourse.
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Content Creator at Armchair Minnesota Timberwolves , The Armchair All-Americans, LLC
I hail from the frigid land of Minnesota. This means the majority of my favorite teams have seen little to no success, but the Lynx do a great job picking up the slack. I’m a die-hard Timberwolves fan and I’m lucky to be witnessing their best team since the Kevin Garnett era. I have loved writing since I was a little kid, and I’m so excited to get the opportunity to write about the NBA. When I’m not focusing on my basketball obsession, I’m spending time with my dogs or horse. Follow me on Twitter @Katie_Nelson40 for some stellar basketball discourse.
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