Houston — James Harden had another huge third quarter to propel the Houston Rockets to their latest win, and coach Mike D’Antoni wants to know what’s behind those scoring bursts.
“When you do talk to him about it, would you let me know, because I’m dying in the first half. My health is an issue,” D’Antoni said with a laugh.
Clint Capela had 26 points and 15 rebounds, Harden added 24 points and the Rockets pulled away in the third quarter to get another lopsided win and eliminate the Minnesota Timberwolves with a 122-104 victory in Game 5 of the first-round series Wednesday night.
The top-seeded Rockets are headed to the second round for the second year in a row after taking care of the eighth-seeded Timberwolves. Minnesota was in the postseason for the first time since 2004.
Houston will await the winner of the Utah-Oklahoma City series, which the Jazz lead 3-2 after the Thunder rallied from a big deficit Wednesday night to avoid elimination.
After scoring 22 points in Houston’s 50-point third quarter in a Game 4 blowout Monday night, Harden poured in half of Houston’s 30 points in the third quarter Wednesday night to put the Rockets up for good. His 15 third-quarter points matched Minnesota’s output in the frame, and he finished with 12 assists.
“I knew that Minnesota wasn’t going to just go away,” he said. “We had to do the right things to put them away.”
Karl-Anthony Towns led the Timberwolves with 23 points and 14 rebounds, and Jamal Crawford added 20 points off the bench.
“It’s a major jump from where we were two years ago,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We have to take all the things we learned this past season and make a commitment to continue to improve.”
Paul and Harden both raved about the work of Capela, who throughout the series has outshined Towns, an All-Star this season and the top overall pick in 2015.
“He opens up everything for us because he’s such a threat when he rolls to the rim,” Paul said.
Towns believes the experience of his first trip to the postseason will help him moving forward.
“We hadn’t been there in like 14 years so it was experience that needed to be garnered and we wanted to take that next step,” he said. “We came up short tonight but we’re very confident in ourselves leading up to next year.”
Andrew Wiggins scored the last four points of the third quarter to cut the lead to 85-74 entering the fourth quarter. The Rockets used a 7-2 spurt, highlighted by a 3 from Ryan Anderson, to start the fourth and make it 92-76 with 9 1/2 minutes left.
A basket by Derrick Rose got Minnesota within 14 later in the fourth when Houston went on a 10-4 run to push the lead to 108-88 with less than five minutes to go.
The Wolves got consecutive 3s by Jamal Crawford and Wiggins to cut the lead after that, but the Rockets scored the next five points to end that run and cruise to the victory.
The Rockets opened the second half with a 10-2 run to erase a halftime deficit and take a 65-61 lead with about nine minutes left in the third. Paul, who finished with 12 points and nine assists, had four points in that stretch and Harden and P.J. Tucker added 3-pointers.
Minnesota scored the next five points to go back on top, but Harden scored five quick points after that to leave the Rockets ahead 70-66. Harden, who had just five points at halftime, hit a 3 before throwing down a one-handed dunk over Taj Gibson that prompted Minnesota Thibodeau to call a timeout.
The timeout didn’t do anything to slow Harden and the Rockets, and he added another 3 on Houston’s first possession after the timeout.
Towns added a basket after that before Houston scored the next eight points to extend the lead to 81-68 with 2 1/2 minutes left in the quarter.
Things got a little testy after that when Crawford pushed Paul to the court and stood over him jawing. Paul got to his feet and got in his face, but the two were quickly separated and Crawford was given an offensive foul and a technical.
The Rockets will host the first two games of the Western Conference semifinals against the winner of the Jazz-Thunder series.
MORE WESTERN CONFERENCE
(At) Oklahoma City 107, Utah 99: Russell Westbrook scored 45 points and Oklahoma City rallied from 25 points down in the second half to fight off elimination and beat Utah.
Westbrook also had 15 rebounds and seven assists. Paul George added 34 points and eight rebounds.
Utah takes a 3-2 lead back to Salt Lake City for Game 6 on Friday.
Oklahoma City took advantage after Utah’s post players, Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors, got into foul trouble. Both finished with five fouls, and Oklahoma City was able to get to the basket consistently for the first time in the series. Jae Crowder had a career playoff-high 27 points for Utah. Donovan Mitchell scored 23 points, and Joe Ingles added 16.
(At) Cleveland 98, Indiana 95: LeBron James hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer, a crowning moment for another brilliant performance, putting the Cavaliers within one victory of advancing in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Moments after blocking Victor Oladipo’s possible go-ahead driving layup, James caught the inbounds pass, took two dribbles and dropped the winner over Thaddeus Young.
As Cleveland’s sellout crowd exploded, James hugged rookie teammate Cedi Osman before jumping on the scorer’s table to celebrate another of those moments that will define his career.
James finished with 44 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists and went 15 of 15 from the line.
Kyle Korver added 19 points and Cleveland’s much-maligned defense tightened just in time as the Cavaliers seized their first lead in the first-round series after being down 1-0 and 2-1.
Cleveland can close out Indiana with a win Friday night in Indianapolis.
Domantas Sabonis scored 22 points, and Young had 16 for the Pacers.
(At) Toronto 108, Washington 98: DeMar DeRozan scored 32 points, Kyle Lowry had 17 points and 10 assists and Toronto beat Washington in Game 5 to take a 3-2 series lead.
Toronto rebounded after losing Games 3 and 4 in Washington. Game 6 is Friday night in Washington.
The only team in the NBA to avoid a three-game losing streak this season, the Raptors went 5-0 following back-to-back losses during the regular season, and have not lost three straight since last year’s second-round sweep against Cleveland.
Delon Wright scored 11 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter, and Jonas Valanciunas had 14 points and 13 rebounds for Raptors. John Wall had 26 points, and Bradley Beal added 20 for the Wizards.
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