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by: Kris Gardner, United States Basketball Writers Association member. Credentialed media member since 1997. USBWA approved online journalist. Voter of Lowe's Senior CLASS, Naismith, USBWA, and Wooden awards.
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Rockets thrash Jazz in Game 1, 122-90
Posted: April 15, 2019 -- 8:43 a.m. CDT
HOUSTON, TX (Toyota Center) -- Time for the Utah Jazz to make some adjustments. The Rockets overwhelmed the Jazz in Game 1 of their first round series Sunday night with a 122-90 thrashing of the Jazz.
With the win tonight, the Rockets take a 1-0 lead in their best-of-seven series against the Jazz. Since the NBA established the current 16-team playoff format in 1983-84, the team that won Game 1 of a best-of-seven series went onto win the series 78.9% of the time. Dating back to last postseason, Houston is 5-1 vs. Utah.
James Harden scored a game-high 29 points to lead 7 Rockets players in double-digits. Houston only had seven players score in double-figures five times during the regular season and the entire starting lineup scored 10+ points eight times.
Harden carved up Utah's defense with 10 assists. The Jazz tried to shade Harden to his right hand and force him to his "weaker side". It didn't matter too much.
Harden shot 11 for 26 from the floor; and, he missed a few floaters in the paint. However, numerous times, Harden took what the Jazz gave him; drove to the hoop with his right hand and either passed to wide open teammates in either corner for open threes or took shots in the paint. If Harden's teammates missed the open threes, Utah's defense worked. Utah's strategy didn't work often enough Sunday night.
"We started making shots," PJ Tucker said after the game. "It's tough when you do that (force Harden to his right) because you get wide open shots on the perimeter. People just want to try to take him away; but, in doing that, you give up wide open shots. We just take what they give us."
In the second quarter, Tucker drained three consecutive three-point shots (2 from the left corner; 1 from the right corner) during a 14-4 run to boost Houston to a 55-38 lead. Houston led 59-44 at halftime.
Houston started the third quarter slowly; and, Utah took advantage with a 17-7 spurt to trim Houston's lead to five (66-61) with 7:57 left in the third quarter.
Tucker said the Rockets lacked energy during the opening minutes of the third quarter.
"Yeah, because we didn't come out the energy," said Tucker. "That is something that's been our Achilles heel all year, the past two years. We've been terrible in the third quarter. Just coming out of the half, that's something we have to get better at."
Harden added, "It’s nothing. Our energy wasn't where it needed to be. We knew they were going to make a run obviously. It wasn't that bad. We just didn't do anything defensively. We weren't into their bodies and offensively, we were slow. So, (it's) a combination of both. We change both of those; pick up our pace offensively and defensively, got into their bodies, made them take tough shots, and rebound the basketball."
After Utah pulled within five, Harden passed to Clint Capela for a slam dunk to begin a 10-0 run. Utah was scoreless for 4 minutes before Donovan Mitchell sank a three-point shot to end the drought.
Utah's Head Coach Quin Snyder said, "And then in particular, in the third quarter when I thought we started to play better. We had three or four possessions where we got stops, and we just had some plays offensively where not only did we not convert, but we made mistakes offensively and we turned it over. You're just not going to be able – they shot 20 more shots than we did. I don't know how many points off our turnovers, but if you give a team that is that good multiple possessions – we didn't play well. So, I guess that's what I'm trying to say. There are a lot of things we need to do better, and one of them is how we protect the rim."
The Rockets took a 12 point lead (83-71) into the fourth quarter.
With Harden resting on the bench, the Rockets began the fourth quarter with a 12-4 run to lead 95-75 with 9:08 remaining. Danuel House Jr knocked down two three-point shots during the run. Minutes later, House pump-faked a three; then, attacked the basket and finished with a slam dunk for a 19 point lead.
Houston's defense tightened the screws defensively and limited Utah to six points the final 6:24 of the game. Houston's offense outscored Utah 23-6 down the stretch to win by 32 to tie for the second-highest point differential in franchise playoff history (33 vs. Phoenix on 5/13/95 and 32 vs. New York on 4/12/75).
"We’ve been doing that for a while now (locking in defensively)," Mike D'Antoni, Rockets Head coach said. "I don't think it's particularly against them. I just think that for the last two months, since everybody has gotten healthy (and) locked in. They had the same rotation more or less. Same guys in that mix that understands exactly what we want to do. We can get better from this. We fouled way too many times and put them on the line. That's something that we have to cure for next game, but it doesn't surprise me that we can defend, at all."
Houston outshot Utah 50.5% to 39.0%. The Rockets have won eight straight playoff games when shooting 50.0% or better going back to 2009 and nine straight playoff games when holding their opponent below 40.0% shooting going back to 2015.
Houston was 28-5 when outshooting its opponent in the regular season. The Rockets were 11-2 when shooing 50.0% or better in 2018-19 and 5-1 when holding the opposition below 40.0% shooting. Houston shot 40.5% from the floor vs. Utah during the regular season.
Game 2 of this first round series versus the Jazz is Wednesday, April 17, at 8:30 p.m.
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