Rockets take Game 1 against Jazz

The Rockets won't love everything about how they began the second round against the Jazz, but even that gave them something to like.
The Rockets were, for a half, at their best. They would have been hard-pressed to find anything worth a quibble of complaint. When they eased up and the Jazz made them work to finish off a 110-96 win, the Rockets lost a bit of momentum, but gained able reason to feel appropriately threatened despite how devastating they had been to open the series.
The Rockets led by as much as 27 in the first half with nearly everything working. In the fourth quarter, however, the Jazz closed to within 11 with 10 minutes remaining to finish a comeback. James Harden returned to the floor early and slammed the door, scoring the Rockets' next eight points, on his way to 41 to go with eight rebounds and seven assists, and added a lob to Clint Capela to put the Rockets safely up by 17. But the Rockets never recaptured their first-half dominance.
Capela added 16 points with 12 rebounds, outplaying Rudy Gobert, who had 11 points with nine rebounds.
Donovan Mitchell led the Jazz with 21 points, but made just 9 of 22 shots. He turned his right ankle in the fourth quarter, leaving the game briefly. He returned but did not score again.
The Rockets by then were finishing off their fourth consecutive double-digit win, but this time, most of that was built in the first half as the Rockets, at least initially, continued their season-long success against one of the NBA's best defensive teams.
The Rockets had torched the Jazz through the four-game regular-season sweep, but there were many reasons that coach Mike D'Antoni cited that would keep him from considering that any sort of trend. Gobert, the Defensive Player of the Year favorite, missed one of those games. Derrick Favors missed another. Three of those games were before the Jazz got on a second-half roll, topped in the Western Conference only by the Rockets'. Even in that fourth meeting, the Rockets needed to rally from a 15-point deficit with a lineup, using Luc Mbah a Moute at center, they were unlikely to trot out again.
Then the Rockets opened the series with a blast and it became impossible to wonder if the matchup is somehow greatly problematic for the Jazz.
The No. 2 defense in the NBA this season, a hair behind the Celtics, the Jazz ranked 26th against the Rockets. The Rockets' top-scoring quarter of the season was the 48 points they put up in the first meeting with the Jazz in Toyota Center.
On Sunday, the Rockets opened with Harden owning the space between high screens and Gobert's move to protect the rim, the sort of defensive style that has often worked best against the Rockets. But before long, Chris Paul was living in that space. They both knocked down 3s and combined for 24 first-half points.
Before long, the Rockets' shooters around them were hitting, too. P.J. Tucker sank all three 3-pointers he put up in the first half. Mbah a Moute, back from his shoulder injury, knocked down a 3 with his first shot.
In the first half of five games in the first round, the Rockets had made 40.5 percent of their shots and 31.6 percent of their 3s. Against the Jazz on Sunday, they made 53.5 percent of their shots, 62.5 percent of their 3s to take a 25-point lead into the second half.
The Rockets could not maintain that pace, though it was not from just missing shots they had been making. They did miss many of those shots, hitting just 8 of 23 shots in the third quarter. But more than miss shots, they got sloppy with the large lead, not only triggering the Utah break, but seeming to spark them in many ways.
When the Jazz scored the first seven points of the fourth quarter, a lead that swelled to 27 points in the first half was down to 11.
The Rockets took care of that as soon as Harden returned to the floor, but a game that seemed headed to a blowout, was much tougher than that, which might be useful for both teams.
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