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James Harden scores 41, sparks Rockets to Game 1 win over Jazz

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The Beard got busy, and the Rockets used a big first half to take an early lead in their series with Utah.

NBA: Playoffs-Utah Jazz at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Houston Rockets played an uneven game against the Utah Jazz today, but they used a tremendous first-half of peak Rockets basketball to build a 25-point halftime lead, and James Harden scored 41 points to lead Houston to a 110-96 win in game one of their second-round series with Utah.

The Rockets came out in the first half on fire, shooting 54 percent from the field and 10-16 from three before the break, and both Harden and Chris Paul were in complete control of the game. Paul, who finished with 17 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 steals, scored 14 of his points in the first half, and The Beard racked up 20 of his points before intermission.

But what was really notable in setting the tone in the first half was how tight the Houston defense played. The Rockets held the Jazz to just 35 percent shooting and just 39 first half points.

It was a different story after the break, however. The Rockets offense bogged down into some sluggish sequences, but what was most detrimental was that the defense continually broke down and allowed free layups. The Jazz actually ended up outshooting the Rockets 49 percent to 45 percent for the game despite their miserable percentage in the first half.

In fact, the Rockets allowed Utah to get as close as 11 points in the fourth quarter following a huge 17-3 Jazz run, but Harden scored 8 points over a two minute span mid-quarter to regain control of the momentum and allow the Rockets to close out the win.

In addition to all of Harden’s scoring, he also grabbed 8 rebounds and dished 7 assists. He was a ridiculous 7-12 from beyond the arc and 12-26 overall from the floor.

The Rockets once again got a huge game from Clint Capela, who went for 16 points, 12 rebounds and a block. He completely outplayed Utah’s Rudy Gobert, who finished with just 11 points and 9 rebounds. In fact, Gobert didn’t score his first field goal until the 8-minute mark of the fourth quarter, and though he finished the game 4-4 from the field, he was a complete non-factor for the vast majority of the game. Capela also gave him the poster treatment:

The Rockets also got big contributions from P.J. Tucker, who played his usual tough defense, at times guarding Gobert himself, and also becoming a factor offensively. He finished with 15 points and 6 rebounds, while shooting 6-8 from the field and 3-5 from three. He hit all three of his triples in the first half, and also showed some real chops driving to the hoop.

As for the Jazz, they were led by Jae Crowder, who provided a major spark off the bench by scoring 21 points and knocking down 5 threes. At times, he looked like the best player on Utah. They also got 21 from Donovan Mitchell, though he was just 1-7 from deep and tweaked an ankle late in the game stepping on Eric Gordon’s foot. Joe Ingles also pitched in 15.

The Rockets are now up 1-0 in this semifinal series, and the two teams will play again Wednesday night in Houston. The Jazz should be more rested for Game 2, since they were only 36 hours removed from an emotional Game 6 in the first round, and they also may have some added confidence from playing the Rockets tough in the second half. Houston will need to play a little more consistent on Wednesday.

But for now, let’s all enjoy a big win over an old foe.