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James Harden and Clint Capela lead Houston Rockets in Game 1

HOUSTON – The critics James Harden says he will not listen to will not be silenced by a spectacular performance in the first game of the first round. For Harden, now more than ever, the playoffs are about how it ends, not how it starts.

But Harden looked a bit like the MVP that is likely to be early during the 104-101 victory of Houston Rockets Game 1 over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

And the Rockets, record 3-point gunners whose long-range touch (outside of Harden) failed them Sunday night at the Toyota Center, needed that kind of performance from their superstar, a player who infamously did not show up when Houston's season ended on his home court last May.

Harden converted the Timberwolves to 44 points with 15 of 26 pitches, including 7 of 12 from the three-point line. The rest of the Rockets made only 3 of 25 triple attempts (a rare 12 percent of brick games for a team that broke its own one-year triple record in a season), but Harden was just too good. to let Minnesota, the eighth seed, start the series by sneaking away.

Again and again, "The Beard" had great strengths when it seemed that the momentum was leaning towards the Minnesota side. Shortly after the Timberwolves took the lead midway through the fourth quarter, Harden rejoined the game and immediately took a 7-0 DIY run, hitting a glass float, driving for a layup and drilling a shot – up to 3 in transition .

At the time, after Minnesota head coach Tom Thibodeau called for a timeout, Harden strutted around the middle of the court and pointed at the wood as if to remind everyone that this is his home.

James Harden hit Minnesota with 44 points in Houston's opening playoff victory. Larry W. Smith / EPA

Harden's brilliance, highlighted by his 13 points in the fourth quarter, allowed Houston to overcome a Rockets playoff debut quite forgettable by Chris Paul. Paul unusually had more turnovers (six) than assists (four) and finished with only 14 points in 5 of 14 shots. Paul is the co-star that Harden helped recruit last summer, a pairing that led the Rockets to a 65-win regular season with a franchise record to claim the best overall position. But on Sunday night, Paul's six installments tied for his second most in a postseason game (he had eight against the San Antonio Spurs in 2012).

Paul's final mistake: an unnecessary air pass out of bounds with 8.7 seconds left – He could have really bitten the Rockets. But Jimmy Butler, playing with a black coat on his aching right wrist, threw a convincing 3 that could have tied the game, completing his 4-of-11 shooting night.

It also helped the Houston cause that the other All-in Minnesota The star, center Karl-Anthony Towns, had the horrible debut in the playoffs that will provoke much criticism during the three long days leading up to Game 2. Towns It was strangely an offensive last-minute idea, scoring just eight points in 3 of 9 shots.

Clint Capela of Houston dominated the matchup between two of the NBA's best young big men, producing 24 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks. He had 20 points and 10 rebounds at halftime, celebrating with the meals of Harden, who finished with eight assists. Capela is the first player with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in any half of a postseason game since Kevin Durant on May 15, 2014.

Harden never saw the movie that stinky game 6 against the Spurs that ended his season One year ago. He certainly has no interest in revisiting her now, not when he has the chance to make the kind of story that would make any previous failure in the playoffs distant memories.

Sunday night was the first step. Harden and the Rockets have 15 more to play.

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