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Rockets dominate Jazz, take Game 4 and 3-1 series lead, 100-87

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) Chris Paul had 27 points and 12 rebounds while James Harden scored 24 points to power the Houston Rockets to a 100-87 win over the Utah Jazz on Sunday night, taking a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference semifinal series.

Paul, playing the sidekick to Harden for most of his first season in Houston, took center stage, controlling the tempo and getting to his favorite spots as the Rockets led from start to finish.

Donovan Mitchell scored 25 before fouling out and Joe Ingles had 15 for the Jazz.

Mitchell started finding lanes to the basket late and got the Jazz within 85-80 after he fueled a 10-2 run. But Paul, who matched his scoring high for this playoff run, hit a pull-up jumper and found Trevor Ariza for a 3-pointer to put the Rockets back up by double digits and they never looked back.

Houston, which has been known for their offensive firepower, put forth a disruptive defensive effort.

Clint Capela, the anchor of the Houston defense, had 12 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks, one of which featured a Dikembe Mutombo-like finger wag in the fourth quarter.

The Rockets went up by 15 in the second quarter before the Jazz closed to 51-46 on back-to-back three-point plays by Mitchell. Utah trailed 58-48 at the half.

Neither team was accurate from beyond the arc as the Jazz were 7-for-29 and Houston went 10-for-38.

TIP-INS

Rockets: Harden’s 14 first-quarter points were the most for him in the opening period this postseason. … Flying to close out on an Ingles’ 3-pointer in the second quarter, P.J. Tucker raked the Jazz sharpshooter across the face and earned a Flagrant 1. … Capela and Mitchell got double technical fighting for rebound in the fourth quarter and Houston coach Mike D’Antoni got another for his reaction to the play.

Jazz: Ricky Rubio missed his fourth straight game due to a left hamstring strain suffered in opening round but is close to returning. … Gobert, who had 11 points and 10 rebounds, blocked two shots in the opening moments but the Rockets burst to another big lead, 11-3, just as they did Game 1 and 3. … Royce O'Neale left the game with 9:09 left in the first quarter with an apparent knee injury but returned at the end of the period.

UP NEXT

The series shifts back to Houston for Game 5.

Donovan Mitchell’s putback dunk, passing sparks Jazz to Game 2 win over Rockets

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Donovan Mitchell missed.

Then, he made everyone take notice.

The Jazz rookie clanked a runner midway through the fourth quarter but followed his own miss with a putback dunk that sent shockwaves through Houston.

Even on a poor shooting night, Mitchell helped even Utah’s second-round series with the Rockets, 1-1. He dished a personal-best 11 assists in the Jazz’s 116-108 Game 2 win Wednesday.

When teams split the first two games of a best-of-seven series in one location, the team with home-court advantage has still won 61% of the series. The Rockets were better than the Jazz throughout the season, and one game doesn’t erase that.

But with Game 3 Friday in Utah, Houston must adjust to a rookie whose game looks progressively more well-rounded.

An inefficient gunner early in the season, Mitchell developed into a historically efficient rookie scorer. He even became the rare rookie offensive focal point to lead his team to the playoffs.

With starting point guard Ricky Rubio out injured, Mitchell showed his playmaking chops tonight. Though Mitchell shot just 6-for-21, including 2-for-8 on 3-pointers, he expertly read the Rockets’ defense and spread the ball all over the court.

It also helped his teammates knocked down the shots he helped generate. Led by Joe Ingles (27 points on 7-of-9 3-point shooting), Mitchell’s teammates shot 62% on 2-pointers and 54% on 3-pointers.

So much flowed through Mitchell, though. There’s a reason he was a game-high +13.

James Harden carried an even larger load for Houston with 32 points and 11 assists – many to Clint Capela (21 points and 11 rebounds). But the Rockets shot a dreadful 27% on 3-pointers, including 2-of-10 by Harden. Rudy Gobert played his usual stout defense inside (eventually).

Houston is capable of hitting a high offensive level more regularly. Only Utah did it tonight.

Falling behind by 19 in the first half didn’t help the Rockets. Amid too much defensive miscommunication and offensive laziness, they dug themselves a hole – then climbed out of it. Houston led with eight minutes left.

But the Jazz found a formula that worked tonight. Counting only points scored or assisted by Mitchell, Utah outscored the Rockets down the stretch.

The game featured testiness between P.J. Tucker and Mitchell, Gobert and Harden, Jae Crowder and Harden. This series is turning out to be more competitive than it appeared it’d be after Game 1.

Because Mitchell keeps rising to the escalating challenge facing him.

 

Rockets jump to early lead, cruise in Game 1 win over Jazz

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If you’re the coach of an NBA team, you know what the Houston Rockets are going to try to do to you. Usually, you’re powerless to stop it. That was the position Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder found himself in on Sunday as his team took on the Houston Rockets in Game 1 of their semifinal series against each other.

The Rockets played their usual game, putting the Jazz into poor defensive positions as they vacillated between crisp ball movement and devastating isolation play. Utah, meanwhile, just didn’t have the firepower to match Houston. The Jazz had to play without Ricky Rubio after he injured his hamstring, instead calling on Dante Exum to fill some of his minutes.

The result was that Houston played much the way we’ve seen them do all season long. The Rockets ran, getting out on the break and punishing the shorthanded Jazz from the 3-point line. Houston was 10-of-16 from beyond the arc in the first half alone, with PJ Tucker and Harden leading the way. The Rockets put Utah in a tough position, forcing switches and moving the ball. Harden & Co. used an 11-2 run to end the second quarter to take a 25-point lead into halftime.

Snyder made some adjustments during the break, allowing the Jazz to gain seven points on the Rockets in the third quarter. Donovan Mitchell led the charge as Utah concentrated their attack in the painted area. Utah also did a better job defending the 3-point line to open the second half, although even with a redoubled effort they still only kept Houston to 36 percent from deep in the third quarter.

The Rockets stabilized, and although Utah continued to play better in the fourth quarter the visiting Jazz just couldn’t overcome the lead Houston built in the first half. At no point did the Snyder’s team unplug one of Houston’s weapons — the best the Jazz could manage was to turn down the volume.

As such, Harden scored a whopping 41 points to go along with eight rebounds and seven assists. Four of five Rockets starters scored in double figures, and as a team Houston shot 53 percent from the 3-point line.

Utah saw the Rockets concentrate on pushing its guards off the arc. Donovan Mitchell scored 21 points, but went 1-of-7 from the 3-point line. Joe Ingles had 15 points, six rebounds, and five assists, but shot just 1-of-3 from deep. Jae Crowder scored 21 points in a great effort off the bench.

After a thrilling, heartening win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in the last round, the Jazz got a quick taste of what it’s like to go up against a championship-caliber team locked into playoff mode. It won’t get any easier for Utah, either. They are likely to be without Rubio for Game 2 according to reports, and Mitchell turned his right ankle with 5:33 to go in the fourth on Sunday. Mitchell’s health will be something to keep an eye on as his tissue responds over the next few days.

Game 2 isn’t until Wednesday at 5 p.m. PST. Hopefully that will give Mitchell and Rubio time to rest up, and for Synder to adjust his offensive gameplan to get his scorers more opportunities. Like everyone else in the NBA, Snyder’s task next time out will be to find a way to stop Houston from bombing away from deep like they did on Sunday afternoon.

The Rockets took care of Utah in easy fashion in Game 1, 110-96.

Ricky Rubio out for Game 1, likely 10 days or so, with hamstring strain

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Friday night — thanks to a massive second half from Donovan Mitchell, good ball movement that got other players good looks, and a suffocating defense — the Utah Jazz were able to get by without Ricky Rubio and beat the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Now the Jazz step way up in class to take on the Houston Rockets, and they are again going to have to do it without Rubio for at least a while. Officially, he is out for Game 1 on Sunday, the team announced.

It’s going to be more than one game. Other reports on how long Rubio will be out vary from a week to two, in part because hamstrings heal slowly and are easy to re-aggravate if not right when the player comes back.

Rubio tried to take it in stride.

No Rubio will likely mean Dante Exum starts, with more run for Alec Burks and others.

Rubio had played well against the Thunder, providing a secondary shot creator after Mitchell (on a team that struggles in that area). Rubio averaged 16.8 points and 8.6 assists per game in the last series, although he wasn’t efficient (true shooting percentage of 47.7). Still, his playmaking and willingness to take the shot kept defenses honest.

Without him, it becomes that much more difficult to beat a championship-level Rockets team.

 

Donovan Mitchell, Jazz outlast red-hot Westbrook for win, eliminate Thunder

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The Thunder are about to enter one long, hot summer. One that could be the summer of their discontent.

However, before that can begin, the Thunder players and their fans are going to have to get over a terrible call that cost them the chance to tie the game late in Utah and possibly keep their season alive

Make no mistake, the Utah Jazz and Donovan Mitchell earned the 96-91 win in Game 6 at home Friday night. Mitchell exploded for 22 points in the third quarter on his way to a career playoff high 38 points for the game — he looks nothing like a rookie. It was enough to hold off another molten-hot lava night from Russell Westbrook who had 46 points and had to shoulder the entire Thunder offense with Paul George and Carmelo Anthony cratering in a big game.

The win gave Utah a 4-2 series win. Next up for the Jazz, the Rockets starting Sunday in Houston.

To get there the Jazz did get some help from the referees late.

The Thunder were down 13 midway through the fourth but made a late push behind Westbrook to get it within three with less than a minute left. That’s when there was a frantic series of threes and missed lay-ups by the Thunder — misses by Westbrook, by George, by seemingly everybody — and with each miss a Thunder player pulled in or tapped out the rebound to a teammate. Five times it happened.

On that final, fateful attempt, George got the ball out top, pump-faked, got Rudy Gobert in the air (the big man had switched on to him), and Gobert clearly fouls George in the act of shooting.

No whistle. The officials said after the game that Gobert jumped to the right of George, and PG13 jumped into him to draw the contact. Looking at other angles of the replay, George leans into Gobert some, but that’s still a foul in my book. The officials missed that one. We’ll see what the league says in the Last Two Minute Report, and whatever it is it will change nothing.

That play also is not why the Thunder lost. OKC shot 0-of-7 in the final minute and was 2-of-11 in the final three minutes. George had 5 points on 2-of-16 shooting, with more turnovers than points on the night. Carmelo Anthony had just 7 points and was such a defensive liability Billy Donovan had to sit him for crucial stretches. The Thunder offense was predictable, and defensively they had holes that the Jazz were able to exploit. It was not one call that cost the Thunder the game, it was the previous 47 minutes. It was an entire season of not quite coming together right all meshed into one game.

Utah certainly did exploit those OKC holes, starting with Mitchell.

“After Game 5 (when Utah blew a 25 point lead) there was some question if we could handle it, but the character of this team is incredible,” Michell said. “We all played well, we all did what we were supposed to do and everybody came up big.”

Mostly that was Mitchell that came up big. As he has all season, he took on the Utah offense when it needed him to after a dreadful first half, one where Ricky Rubio went to the locker room with a hamstring injury not to return.

Actually, Utah won the first half. Sure, it was tied 41-41 at the break, but that felt like an upset in and of itself. With Rubio out the Utah offense struggled to get into its sets and create good looks. George played good defense in the first half, making life difficult for Mitchell, and with that pressure Utah turned the ball over on 22.2 percent of their possessions in the first half. Plus the Jazz were just 7-of-16 inside three feet of the rim in the first 24 minutes. As a team, the Jazz shot 39 percent in the first half. Meanwhile, Russell Westbrook had 15 points and five assists.

And yet, after a couple Joe Ingles threes and a driving Mitchell bucket late, it was 41-41 after 24 minutes. The Thunder blew their chance to take control of this game.

Mitchell came out on fire after the break and scored first 10 points of the second half for Jazz — each of those involving having ‘Melo’s man set the screen to get a switch — and he kept piling it on as the Jazz stretched their lead out to double digits. For the third quarter Mitchell was 8-o-9 for 22 points, and the Jazz scored 37 in the frame.

The only reason the Thunder were not blown out of the building is Westbrook would not let them be — he had 20 points of his own in the third alone and was knocking down threes like a Curry.

There are those that will complain about Westbrook’s efficiency — he had 46 points but on 43 shots — however in this game, they needed it. With George and Anthony combining for just 12 points, if Westbrook doesn’t go HAM this ends in a blowout.

It still wasn’t enough. And the loss leads into what will be one interesting summer in OKC.

For the Thunder, this loss has to leave a bad taste in Paul George’s mouth as he heads into free agency. Around the league, most sources expect him to leave for Los Angeles, although that is no lock. If George stays and gets a max contract (anything less and he certainly leaves), and Carmelo Anthony opts into his $28 million for next season as expected, all just as Westbrook’s new max deal kicks in, things are going to get expensive in OKC. Considering payroll and luxury tax for being way over the salary cap (and the Thunder will be in the repeater tax, too) bringing back this roster would lead to a more than $250 million payroll. That’s a number that would make the Lakers or Knicks look to shed salary even if they had contenders, let alone the small market Thunder with a team that isn’t going to bring home a ring. If the big three come back, expect the Thunder so have to shed some good role players just to save money.

The Jazz played better as a team all series, with lock-down defense and enough offense to get the win. Just as they had all season. They were able to make Westbrook think as he drove the rim on Rudy Gobert, and their defense kept Oklahoma City’s stars in check.

Whether they can do that against the Rockets is another question, but they earned the chance to try.