Posted on January 19, 2018, by Travis Pulver

The Houston Rockets have had to do without their superstar, James Harden the last couple weeks as he recovered from an injury. They went 4-3 without him in the lineup, so they definitely looked forward to getting him back.  Thursday night they finally did get him back as he made his triumphant return at home against a competitive Minnesota Timberwolves team.

He didn’t play like the MVP-candidate fans know and love, but the Rockets still had more than enough firepower to tame the Timberwolves.

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Eric Gordon ended up leading the way off the bench with 30 points on the night (11-19 from the floor; 7-13 from three-point range). His half-court heave at the end of the third quarter gave the Rockets an 89-70 advantage heading into the final quarter.

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“When I shot it, I thought it was going to go in somehow,” Gordon said after the game (ESPN). “It looked good from that distance, but it was good to get that one to go in. It felt good to knock down a shot like that.”

Houston led by nine after the first quarter, 26-17. They extended the lead at halftime, 63-50. After Gordon’s half-court three-pointer extended the lead to 19 they were able to coast through the final quarter and take home a 116-98 victory.

While the win is nice, of course, what fans were interested in the most was how James Harden would fare after being off for the last couple of weeks with a hamstring strain. He didn’t score much, but he certainly made an impact with 10 points (3-15 from the floor), seven assists, two steals, two rebounds, and a pair of blocks.

“Other than missing a lot of shots that I normally make, I thought I was active, especially, defensively,” Harden said following the game (ESPN). “I was trying to create opportunities and get guys involved, and obviously, those guys had great games tonight.”

Gordon had plenty of help securing the win for the team. Chris Paul chipped in 19 points, nine assists, and six rebounds. Clint Capella added an additional 20 points. Luc Mbah a Moute made the most of his start for the suspended Trevor Ariza with 14 points in 32 minutes.

Jimmy Butler led the way for the T-wolves with 23 points followed by Karl Anthony Towns with 22 points.

The Aftermath

Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni referred to Harden’s performance as “rusty.” The team is expected to keep him on a minutes restriction for the foreseeable future to make sure he doesn’t overtax his hamstring and have to sit out again.

With or without him, playing with an edge like they did Thursday night will be the key to a long playoff run.

“We’ve got to do that to have a chance to do what we want to do,” D’Antoni said (ESPN). “We’re going to be pretty good because we score enough points, so we’re going to win some games. But to go deep in the playoffs, if we want to win, we have to have a toughness mentally that’s been missing.”

The Rockets will need to play with an edge Saturday night if they are going to beat the Golden State Warriors. Minnesota has a tough one on deck Saturday night as well against the Toronto Raptors.

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