MINNEAPOLIS – Chris Johnson arrived in Minnesota on Friday night just hoping to provide a little bit of energy and make a solid impression in his latest effort to catch on with an NBA team.
About 24 hours later, he was hearing chants of “M-V-P! M-V-P!” and teaming with another new face to carry the Timberwolves to a much-needed victory.
Johnson and Mickael Gelabale signed 10-day contracts Saturday morning and then scored Minnesota’s first 23 points of the fourth quarter to lift the Timberwolves to a 92-79 win over the slumping Houston Rockets on Saturday night.
Johnson, a center/forward signed from Santa Cruz of the NBA Development League, scored 13 of his 15 points in the fourth. Gelabale, a forward who arrived from France on Thursday, had 10 of his 11 points in the final 12 minutes to help the injury-plagued Wolves snap a five-game skid.
“I don’t think I drew it up that way,” Johnson said with a big smile.
Neither did the Rockets, who were caught flat-footed by two unknown players who showed more heart and hustle in 12 minutes than the entire Houston team has in about two weeks.
James Harden scored 18 points on 5-for-18 shooting for the Rockets, who have lost seven straight games. Houston shot 32 percent and committed 20 turnovers in another lethargic effort.
The Rockets’ starters shot 25.5 percent for the game, and Harden is shooting 28 percent (23 for 80) in the past three games.
Andrei Kirilenko had 21 points and 11 rebounds, and Luke Ridnour scored 16 points for the Timberwolves, who had lost each of their previous five by double digits and were playing with just nine healthy bodies.
They appeared to be running out of gas again when the Rockets closed the third quarter with a 10-2 run to cut Minnesota’s lead to 63-59, but that’s when Johnson and Gelabale improbably took over.
The athletic Johnson scored Minnesota’s first eight points of the period. He threw down an alley-oop from Ridnour and was serenaded with the MVP chants when he hit two free throws for a 71-62 lead.
“I heard it,” Johnson said sheepishly of the chants. “I don’t agree with it at all. It’s just a great fan base. They showed great support tonight.”
Gelabale picked up from there, the French Olympian converting a three-point play during an 11-point scoring binge of his own. Kirilenko’s putback with 1:35 to play was the first Minnesota bucket by someone other than the 10-day duo in the fourth.