By Kristie Rieken
HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden predicted Chris Paul would “come back and drop 30” after not playing his best in Houston’s playoff opener.
Paul had 27 points and Gerald Green came off the bench to score a playoff career-high 21 as the Rockets used a huge second quarter to cruise to a 102-82 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night that gave them a 2-0 lead in the first-round playoff series.
Paul, a nine-time All-Star, scored 14 points and tied a season high with six turnovers in the first game. Early on, it was clear that Paul wouldn’t struggle again as he had 15 points, three assists, two steals and a block by halftime.
Paul, who joined the Rockets in an offseason trade from the Clippers, finished with eight assists and three steals.
“I know he was beating himself up after Game 1, he called me and we talked a little bit and I said: ‘Don’t worry about it, the win’s all that matters so just come back and be aggressive,'” Harden said.
Paul seemed to listen to his teammate.
“Just tried to push the tempo, tried to be aggressive … getting into the lane and getting a couple of easy ones early helped us,” Paul said.
Houston fell behind early but went on top for good with a 37-point second quarter, powered by four 3-pointers from Green, and the Wolves didn’t threaten again.
The top-seeded Rockets won the opener by three behind a 44-point performance from James Harden on a night when most of the team struggled offensively. Things were much different Wednesday when Harden went 2 for 18 and had just 12 points as one of four Rockets who finished in double figures.
Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns had another disappointing game, scoring all of his five points in the first quarter after being criticized for finishing with eight in the series opener.
Towns said he can’t be frustrated with how the first two games have gone for him.
“I think we all have to be better, including myself,” he said. “We’ve got to find ways. We can come up with some tweaks and be ready for the next game.”
The All-Star big man went to the bench with about seven minutes left in the third quarter and didn’t return, and coach Tom Thibodeau said Towns needs to “play with energy.”
The Rockets tried to wear Towns down by using Clint Capela and the much-bulkier Nene on him in the first half.
“It’s playoffs and it’s a different ball game,” Towns said. “The physicality is different and the way the game is played is different. We’ve got to adjust, accordingly.”
Jamal Crawford scored 16 points for the eighth-seeded Timberwolves, who are in the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
Houston was up by 22 points with about nine minutes left when Paul made two quick baskets to make it 91-65. The second came on a twirling off-balance layup over Nemanja Bjelica that earned him a standing ovation from the home crowd.
The Rockets were up by 15 at halftime and opened the second half with a 10-2 run to make it 65-42 with about nine minutes left in the third.
The Timberwolves had scored seven straight points later in the third when Green, the hometown player who was signed off the street in December, hit his fifth 3-pointer to leave the Rockets up 74-53 with about 2 1/2 minutes left in the quarter.
He was thrilled to be able to star in a playoff game in the city where he grew up.
“This moment that I’m living right now is everything that I’ve dreamed of since I was five or six years old,” Green said.
The Timberwolves led by as many as nine early and the game was tied with about eight minutes left in the second quarter before Houston scored 16 straight points, highlighted by three 3-pointers from Green, to take a 46-30 lead with about 4 1/2 minutes left in the first half.
Timberwolves: Justin Patton sat out with a sore left foot. … Butler finished with 11 points. … Andrew Wiggins had 13 points and eight rebounds. … Minnesota shot 5 of 18 from 3-point range.
Rockets: Ryan Anderson, who returned to practice Tuesday, didn’t play after also sitting out in Game 1. Coach Mike D’Antoni said Anderson, who has a sprained left ankle, is likely to play Saturday. … Trevor Ariza had 15 points. … Houston made 16 of 52 3-pointers.
Rapper Travis Scott, who is a frequent visitor to Rockets games, sat courtside with girlfriend Kylie Jenner. It was the first time Jenner has attended a game in Houston since the couple welcomed their first child, a daughter named Stormi, in February. Also sitting courtside was rapper Lil’ Wayne, who received a loud ovation when he was introduced on the Jumbotron in the fourth quarter.
THEY SAID IT
Paul on Houston winning big despite Harden’s tough night: “You give him 18 shots next game and see what happens,” he said with a grin.
The series moves to Minnesota for Game 3 on Saturday.
(© Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)