Los Angeles (AFP) – James Harden scored 36 points as the Houston Rockets moved to the brink of a Western Conference first round playoff series victory with a 119-100 rout of the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday.
Harden underscored his status as front-runner for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award after leading a stunning third quarter performance that saw the Rockets explode for an astonishing 50 points.
That devastating burst of scoring — a franchise record — included 22 points from Harden as the Rockets transformed what had been a one-point contest at half-time into a comfortable victory.
The win gives Houston a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, giving the Western Conference leaders a chance to clinch their place in the second round of the playoffs with a victory at home in game five on Wednesday.
The smart money will be on Houston to wrap up the series quickly after Monday’s demolition job at Minnesota’s Target Center arena.
While Harden’s virtuoso third quarter performance ultimately decided the contest, the Rockets will also take heart from an offensive display that saw five players finish with double-digit points tallies.
Point guard Chris Paul weighed in with 25 points — including 15 in the lop-sided third quarter — while Eric Gordon had 18 and Trevor Ariza 15.
Center Clint Capela finished with 14 points, and also pulled down 17 rebounds during his 31 minutes on court.
The Timberwolves’ scoring was led by Karl-Anthony Towns with 22 points, while Jimmy Butler (19) and Derrick Rose (17) also made significant contributions.
Minnesota had looked capable of snaring a series-leveling victory after a close first half, in which the Rockets take a slender 50-49 lead at the break.
But Houston’s scorching 50-point third quarter saw the Rockets head into the fourth quarter with a 100-69 lead.
While Minnesota closed the gap as Houston eased up, the Rockets never looked like surrendering the initiative, keeping the Timberwolves at arm’s length as they closed out the win.