Houston erupted in the first half, taking a 25-point lead into halftime while shooting 53.5 percent from the floor. The charge was led by James Harden and Chris Paul, both of whom for the first time in the playoffs, were playing well simultaneously. In the first round, it was Harden OR CP3 playing well, but yesterday was the first time the word “‘or” was substituted for “and.”
The supporting cast was not as strong but definitely had its bright spots. P.J. Tucker made 3 of 5 threes and has now scored 15 points in consecutive games. Clint Capela also posted a double-double with 16 points and 12 boards.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Rockets also did their job. The team forced 18 Utah turnovers and out-rebounded the Jazz 43-37. It was clear, especially in the first half, that Houston was going to take the opening game in the series. Their 25-point cushion allowed them to coast through the second half to a 14-point victory and the lead never dipped under double digits.
Game 1 took place less than 48 hours after the Jazz won their high-intensity series over the Oklahoma City Thunder and it was a rather quick turnaround. The team also lost Ricky Rubio in Game 6 against OKC and Sunday was their first game without him in the lineup. Utah did not have enough time to complete these adjustments, but by Wednesday’s Game 2, Utah will make adjustments for this Houston team, and Houston will need to react well to them.
Similar to the last series, the Rockets’ opponent is struggling to get the ball inside to their big man. Karl-Anthony Towns struggled at the beginning of the Timberwolves series, and Gobert struggled yesterday. Despite being perfect from the field, Gobert took just 4 shots for 11 points. With Rubio’s offense out the door, Gobert will have to be one of the people to pick up the pieces. The team needs to look for Gobert more on the offensive end.
The Jazz also made just seven threes yesterday on 22 attempts. Meanwhile, the Rockets shot 17-32 from three-point land, an advantage of +30 from the arc. Five of the Jazz’s seven threes came from Jae Crowder, the team’s leading scorer from yesterday’s game with 21. Joe Ingles and Donovan Mitchell hit the other two triples, but both guys will need to produce more from downtown.
In the one game the Rockets lost in the opening round, the Wolves shot north of 50 percent from three, sinking 15 of 27 threes. Utah is going to need much more production if they want to get back in this series. Mitchell and Ingles are where it starts, but Utah needs more from Jonas Jerebko and Royce O’Neale, both of whom shot above 35 percent from three this season.
For Houston, the team knows that it won’t all click every game like it did on Sunday, but this certainly has to be a confidence boost that Game 1 came to them as easy as it did. If the team can get even a fraction of this production in the next couple of games, this series could be over quickly.