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James Harden, Rockets rout Jazz 122-90 in Game 1

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HOUSTON — James Harden had 29 points and 10 assists to help the Houston Rockets rout the Utah Jazz 122-90 on Sunday night in Game 1 of a best-of-seven first-round playoff series.

The Rockets had a double-digit lead for most of the game, but the Jazz got within five points midway through the third quarter before Houston used a big run to pull away and sail to the victory.

It’s the second consecutive year these teams have met in the postseason after the Rockets eliminated Utah in five games in the second round last season.

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Houston.

Houston was up by 15 in the fourth quarter before Harden, who had eight rebounds, scored six points in a 9-2 run that stretched the lead to 108-86 with four minutes left and both teams cleared their benches about a minute after that.

Houston’s starting lineup helped carry the scoring load on Sunday night, with each starter scoring at least 10 points. Eric Gordon had 17, Clint Capela scored 16, Chris Paul added 14 and P.J. Tucker had 11.

Rudy Gobert had 22 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Jazz after not scoring more than 15 points in a game in the playoff series against the Rockets last season. Donovan Mitchell had 19 points, but did not have an assist as the Jazz went long stretches without scoring.

Ricky Rubio started after missing four of the last five games of the regular season with a quadriceps injury. Rubio, who finished with 15 points, didn’t play against Houston in the playoffs last season after injuring his hamstring in a first-round series win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Houston had a 12-point lead entering the fourth quarter and an 8-0 spurt, with two 3-pointers from Danuel House, extended it to 95-75 with nine minutes remaining.

The Rockets led by 17 when Harden re-entered the game about a minute later. Soon after he returned he found House behind the 3-point line in the corner and drove to the basket and finished with a one-handed slam.

The Rockets were up by 15 at halftime, but Utah opened the second half with a 10-3 run, with six points from Gobert, to cut it to 62-54 with nine minutes left in the third.

The Jazz got within five with a shot from Mitchell later in the third, before the Rockets scored next 10 points, with a 3 from Gordon and a three-point play from Harden, to make it 76-61 with about four minutes left in the quarter.

Mitchell ended a Utah scoring drought of about 4 1/2 minutes after that with a 3-pointer, but Harden hit a 3 seconds later to leave the Rockets up 79-64.

Utah cut into the lead a bit after that and trailed 83-71 after three.

TIP-INS

Jazz: Derrick Favors had 13 points. … Utah went 7 for 27 on 3s. … The Jazz had 18 turnovers. … Jae Crowder scored nine points off the bench.

Rockets: Coach Mike D’Antoni was back on the sideline after missing Houston’s last three regular-season games with an intestinal virus. … Hall of Famer and former Rocket Hakeem Olajuwon watched the game from a courtside seat. … Houston made 15 3-pointers, led by four from Harden.

UP NEXT

After Game 2 on Wednesday the series moves to Utah for Game 3 on Saturday and Game 4 on April 22.

Suns, Jazz foul each other to get/stop Devin Booker 60-point game (video)

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Devin Booker is a good player on a bad team that’s having another lost season.

So, sometimes, the Suns just play for Booker to do something special.

He scored 70 points in a game two years ago. But that came in a decided loss to the Celtics in which Phoenix repeatedly fouled and called timeouts down the stretch to set up Booker buckets.

With Booker sitting on 56 points and the Suns trailing the Jazz by 31 with fewer than three minutes left last night, Booker checked back into the game. He didn’t push too hard, allowing Jimmer Fredette to shoot more down the stretch. But Phoenix still tried to get him 60.

Booker reached 59 points when the Suns intentionally fouled with 24 and 21 seconds left to give Utah free throws and get the ball back. The Jazz responded by fouling Phoenix guard De'Anthony Melton, forcing him to shoot free throws rather than allowing Booker a chance to score. After Melton missed both free throws, the Suns mercifully let Utah dribble out the final 17 seconds.

I’m personally unbothered by either team’s strategy. This is professional basketball. They don’t need to protect their opponent’s feelings. Booker scoring 60 points would have been a cool moment for him – one the Jazz wanted to prevent.

To whatever degree you think the teams were wrong, they were equally wrong. Both intentionally fouled not in the name of winning, but trying to manipulate whether Booker scored. Again, I’m not offended by their strategies. But neither team can claim the moral high ground.

For Utah forward – and former Boston forward – Jae Crowder, this must have felt awfully familiar.

Is Gordon Hayward getting favorable treatment because of his popularity with some fans?

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The Celtics have so many talented players.

Yet, they started Gordon Hayward – whose play clearly didn’t merit it – his first 15 games this season.

Boston went just 8-7 during those games. Its main starting lineup – Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford – scored only 91.1 points and got outscored by 3.9 points per 100 possessions during that span.

Why were the Celtics so invested in Hayward?

Several reasons:

He’s earning $31,214,295 this season and is due $66,887,775 the next two years. He was going to factor significantly into the team’s roster construction, regardless. There was plenty of financial pressure to get Hayward on track.

Hayward suffered a season-ending injury in Boston’s first game last season. He didn’t get healthy until shortly before the season. Hayward reaching full speed was always likely to require a rocky transition into game play at some point.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens coached Hayward at Butler. It always helps to have the coach so personally believe in you.

Stephen A. Smith of ESPN:

And then there’s the element of Boston, Massachusetts. They don’t just want a star. Of course, they’ll take any star that they can get, because their priority is winning. But everybody and their mother knows that particularly when it comes to Boston, if we can have a white superstar, that would be even better. And they view Gordon Hayward as having that kind of potential.

So, all of those things considered, the players recognize this, were aware of this. And ultimately those who were compromised by having to be on a court with Gordon Hayward were sensitive to it.

Not because they don’t like him. Not because he’s not a good guy, because he is a good guy. It’s just that they know he hasn’t fully recovered 100 percent from his injury. So, he’s not the same as he used to be. They know he’s going to be a step slower. They know he’s going to be compromised. I have spoken to people in the league who literally have said, “Look man, no disrespect to Gordon Hayward, nice guy, but he’s really, really compromised right now. He’s not the same guy that he was.” And they said, “We actually kind of feel sorry for him, because he is a nice guy, and we know he’s trying to come back from injury.”

Are there Celtics fans who’d prefer a white star? Yes.

Has that thinking trickled into the team’s actual decision-making? I don’t know.

Are Celtics players sensitive to all of this? Apparently so, according to Smith.

Boston has earned a reputation for its racism. That doesn’t make everyone in Boston racist. That doesn’t make anyone in the Celtics racist. That doesn’t make Boston the only city with racism. But there is a perception, and sometimes perception itself matters.

Discussion of race and the Celtics intensified two years ago, when Boston fans cheered Hayward, who was then visiting with the Jazz. Jae Crowder, who’s black and was the Celtics’ starting small forward at the time, took exception. Did Boston fans support Hayward over Crowder because of race?

Celtics fans also also cheered visiting black players, Kevin Durant the year before and Anthony Davis this season. Durant and Davis are significantly better than Hayward. On the other hand, Durant (2016), Hayward (2017) and Davis (2019) each looked like the best player Boston could realistically acquire each of those summers.

There are no clear motives here. Not every fan cheering for Hayward did so because he’s white. Even the fans who prefer their team has a white star rarely admit it, including to themselves.

But this is where perception matters. If Celtics players believe Hayward gets special consideration because he’s white, whether or not he actually does, that would lead to problems with togetherness, supportiveness, attitude and environment – all issues Boston players have said the team has faced this year.

Kyrie Irving has taken the most blame. His leadership, impending free agency and general attitude have all made waves.

But it doesn’t have to be only one thing. Whatever is happening with Irving, the situation around Hayward could also be causing resentment.

There are plenty of good reasons to lean on Hayward – his contract, his upside as he gets healthier. More than with any other player, the Celtics have played best when Hayward is playing well. It’ll be difficult for Boston to reach its goals without Hayward clicking.

He and the Celtics have played better lately. The micro problem could be solving itself – at least one micro problem.

Like most things, Boston’s issues are likely complex.

Watch Paul George drain game-winning floater in 2OT, lift Thunder past Jazz

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Paul George floated in a basket with less than a second remaining in double-overtime, capping a 45-point night with the winning shot in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 148-147 victory over the Utah Jazz on Friday.

George dribbled out the final seconds before splitting the Joe Ingles, Ricky Rubio double team then hitting a rainbow floater over Rudy Gobert 0.8 seconds left that gave the Thunder the win.

Kyle Korver got off a desperate 3 for Utah, but it went long as the buzzer sounded.

Russell Westbrook added 43 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists, helping Oklahoma City overcome 38 points from Donovan Mitchell. Westbrook fouled out with 1:09 left in the first overtime, ending his NBA streak of 11 consecutive games with a triple-double.

The game went to overtime after the Thunder’s Jerami Grant completed a tying three-point play, then blocked Mitchells shot at the other end. Grant had 18 points.

In the first overtime, Abdel Nader hit a 3-pointer to give the Thunder a 139-137 lead in the final minute after Westbrook and Terrance Ferguson had fouled out. Utah’s Rudy Gobert tipped in the tying basket with 33.7 seconds left, and George and Mitchell eached missed jumpers in the closing seconds.

Gobert hit two free throws with 1:10 left in the second overtime for a 147-146 lead, but Utah went cold from there. Mitchell’s driving shot off the glass missed the rim, and Joe Ingles missed on a long 3-point try as the shot clock expired with 13.2 seconds left.

Steven Adams played a game-high 47 minutes for Oklahoma City, returning from a pre-All-Star break ankle injury to score 16 points and grab 10 rebounds to go along with five steals.

Derek Favors hit his first 10 shots, finishing with 24 points and 11 rebounds for Utah. Gobert had 26 points and 16 rebounds for the Jazz.

The teams were physical throughout. Westbrook got a flagrant foul for crashing into Gobert while defending a layup, and there was a fracas late in the first half after Jae Crowder fouled the Thunder’s Dennis Schroder.

 

Watch Kawhi Leonard go off for a career-high 45, leads Raptors beat Jazz 122-116

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TORONTO (AP) — Kawhi Leonard scored a career-high 45 points, Pascal Siakam had a career-best 28 points with 10 rebounds, and the Toronto Raptors beat the Utah Jazz 122-116 on Tuesday night.

Norman Powell scored a season-high 14 points, and the Raptors won their fourth straight at home.

Jae Crowder scored a career-high 30 points, Derrick Favors had 21 and Donovan Mitchell scored 19 as the Jazz dropped to 10-12 on the road and 18-20 overall.

Utah’s Rudy Gobert scored 16 points, and Ricky Rubio had 14.

Leonard made all seven of his field-goal attempts in the third quarter and added five foul shots. His 19 points were the second most in any quarter by a Raptors player this season. Serge Ibaka scored 20 points in the first quarter of a Nov. 4 road win against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Leonard shot 16 for 22 overall, missing all three attempts from 3-point range. He went 13 for 17 at the free-throw line.

After making two 3-pointers in the first half, the Raptors connected on their first three long-range shots of the third quarter, turning a two-point halftime deficit into a 12-point edge midway through the quarter. Siakam went 3 for 3 from 3-point range in the third and scored 13 points. Toronto outscored Utah 44-32 to take a 95-85 lead into the fourth.

Toronto guard Kyle Lowry sat for the eighth time in nine games because of a sore lower back. Before the game, the Raptors said Lowry had travelled to New York last Friday to receive anti-inflammatory injections.

Rubio started after sitting out Saturday’s win over New York because of a sore left knee and sore lower back, while Crowder was back after missing the victory over the Knicks because of a sore left thumb.

Leonard scored 10 points in the first quarter, and all five Raptors starters made at least one basket as Toronto led 26-24 after one.