MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — James Harden was Josh Okogie’s responsibility for much of Wednesday night. Even though Harden piled up 42 points, Okogie’s teammates were full of praise for the Nigerian rookie.
“It wasn’t a good 42,” Karl-Anthony Towns said. “It wasn’t a 42 that he’s been getting recently, you know. He had to work for it.”
Towns had 25 points, Jeff Teague had 27 points and 12 rebounds, and Okogie locked down Harden when it counted most to help the Timberwolves beat the Houston Rockets 121-111.
Harden scored 30 or more points for the 31st consecutive game, tying Wilt Chamberlain for the second-longest streak in league history.
But it was Okogie — who had 16 points — drawing the most praise for making some key defensive stops. Most notably, Okogie brought the crowd to its feet with an impressive block that helped turn the tide.
After being stripped by Okogie a few plays earlier, Harden made one of his trademark step-back moves behind the arc to attempt a 3. The ball didn’t even leave his hand before Okogie leaped forward and stuffed it.
“I knew the shot clock was winding down, and I knew that he had to create some space to get a shot off,” Okogie said. “And I knew obviously the step back is one of his go-to moves, so I kind of just guessed, and I was right.”
A few plays earlier, Okogie sparked the Timberwolves to retake the lead with an 18-2 run in the third, including a breakaway dunk and a 3-pointer to give Minnesota a 77-74 lead.
“We saw him grow up tonight in a lot of ways, I thought,” Timberwolves interim coach Ryan Saunders said of Okogie. “In terms of game plan, following the game plan, just staying within the moment and not getting outside of himself.”
Derrick Rose completed a three-point play with 1:43 left in the third to give Minnesota an 85-76 lead.
Harden’s 12-footer made it 89-all in the fourth before the Timberwolves hit four 3-pointers to take a six-point lead. Harden hit three-straight 3-pointers to pull Houston within 115-111 with 1:52 to play. But Okogie dunked and forced Harden into an airball, and Towns hit a layup to give Minnesota just enough breathing room.
“You could feel the whole game there wasn’t enough enthusiasm, not enough want,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “When we do that, we struggle because we’re not physical like the other teams.”
TYING WILT’S RECORD
Harden shot 15 of 34 from the field, including 8 of 22 from 3-point range. He passed the 30-point mark on his 15th four-point play of the season, getting Okogie in the air with a step-back 3 to put Houston up 74-67 midway through the third. It was also his 22nd 40-point game of the season.
He wasn’t in a mood to say much about it afterward.
“To me, we have no tendencies right now. The tendency is just to come out slow in the third quarters,” he said.
BRUTAL PAINT JOB
Minnesota outscored Houston 70-36 in the paint, as the Timberwolves used sharp passes to find several open layups.
“The way they’re scoring was almost effortless,” Houston guard Chris Paul said. “We just couldn’t stop them. Teague lived the paint. Guys were driving. I think we’re 0-2 against them, so we’ve got to be better.”
Rockets: D’Antoni said C Clint Capela is expected to practice next week to determine if he can play next Thursday at the Lakers. Capela missed his 15th game with a right thumb injury suffered at Orland on Jan. 13. … Gerald Green scored 10 points off the bench in the first quarter, including 2 of 3 from the arc.
Timberwolves: Teague is averaging 19.3 points and nine assists in his three games since returning from a sore left foot. … F Andrew Wiggins missed his second straight game with an illness. F Robert Covington (knee) and G Tyus Jones (ankle) missed their 20th and 13th games, respectively. … Dario Saric again started in place of Taj Gibson. He scored 10 first-quarter points on 4-of-4 shooting to help give the Timberwolves an early eight-point lead.
Rockets: At Los Angeles next Thursday.
Timberwolves: At New York a week from Friday.