James Harden was simply unstoppable.
The Timberwolves had a one-point lead with about seven minutes left when Houston used a 9-0 run, with the last seven points from Harden, to make it 94-86 with about four minutes to go. The Rockets only led by three points heading into the fourth quarter and long-distance gunners Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza and Chris Paul struggled to find their range.
The Timberwolves kept it close to the end, with a late Rockets' turnover giving Minnesota the ball down three in the closing seconds, but Jimmy Butler's attempt at a game-tying 3-pointer fell woefully short.
Houston overall finished the game shooting under 30 percent from deep. It was clear why fans were cheering "MVP" every time Harden went to the line.
Minnesota led by a basket after a jump shot by Towns with about two minutes left in the quarter. At no point did Butler take over the game, finishing with 13 points.
While the Wolves could be pleased with their defensive effort keeping the Rockets well below their season average for total scoring, but there were plenty of disappointing offensive performances on the offensive side.
No one expected the eighth-seeded Wolves to win Game 1 - many don't expect them to win a game in this series - but Sunday set up well for the upset.
Elsewhere on the Worldwide Leader, Zach Lowe and David Thorpe recorded an eight minute podcast just on the Minnesota-Houston series. But in the opener, Harden won the battle of the stars by a very wide margin.
BC-BKN-Timberwolves-Rockets, 670Harden scores 44 points, Rockets beat Wolves 104-101AP Photo NVJL114, NVJL119, NVJL105, NVJL103, NVJL101, NVJL106Eds: APNewsNow. Towns, Butler and Andrew Wiggins, who scored 18 on 7-for-15 shooting, will have to produce much more offensively for the underdog Wolves to have a shot.