(REUTERS) - James Harden returned from a seven-game injury hiatus but took a backseat to the dynamic play of Chris Paul and Eric Gordon in the Houston Rockets' 116-98 victory over the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday at Toyota Center.
Harden, playing under a minutes restriction, finished with 10 points on 3-of-15 shooting and seven assists over 26 minutes, the first time this season he failed to record at least 20 points.
Gordon and Paul filled the scoring void. Gordon posted 30 points off the bench, drilling 7 of 13 3-point attempts. Paul tallied 19 points, six rebounds and nine assists. Paul hit 4 of 8 long-distance attempts as Houston finished 17 of 39 from behind the arc to repeatedly turn back Timberwolves rallies.
Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns worked in tandem to keep Minnesota close, with Butler pouring in 23 points as Towns added a double-double of 22 points and 16 rebounds.
Andrew Wiggins chipped in a relatively quiet 16 points, and Tyus Jones added 13 points off the Timberwolves' bench.
Following a sluggish start, the Rockets created separation with a Gordon-paced flurry to close the first period. Gordon tallied nine points in succession, following a three-point play with back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Rockets a 26-17 lead entering the second period.
The Rockets pulled the same trick to close the half, with Paul spearheading a 13-5 rally to finish that frame.
Paul sank a pair of 3-pointers during that stretch and assisted on a transition trey from Gordon that extended the lead to 60-47 with just under a minute remaining in the half.
Paul also converted a baseline fadeaway over Towns, winning that isolation battle with some deft ballhandling.
After the Timberwolves clawed to within seven late in the third quarter, the Rockets reeled off a 16-4 blitz to close the period and take an 89-70 lead into the fourth.
Gordon hit a half-court buzzer-beater for the final bit of theatrics, leaving Minnesota a hole too deep to escape.
Houston has won 15 of its past 17 games against the Timberwolves, including 10 in a row at Toyota Center.