Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press
The Utah Jazz feature a number of defensive weapons to throw at the Houston Rockets, including Rudy Gobert protecting the rim and Jae Crowder to bother perimeter shooters, but an offense James Harden called “different” had no issue during Sunday’s Game 1 in a 110-96 victory.
As NBA TV shared, the MVP candidate had plenty of good things to say about his team’s performance, which was largely driven by his outing of 41 points, eight rebounds and seven assists on 12-of-26 shooting from the field and 7-of-12 from downtown:
That Houston’s offense thrived in its opening game of the second round was no surprise considering it has scored in triple figures in all six of its playoff contests and was second in the league in offensive rating during the regular season, per NBA.com.
One thing that makes the Rockets “different” this year than the version that lost in the second round in 2017 is the presence of Chris Paul alongside Harden. While Harden did much of the heavy lifting Sunday, Paul picked his spots while the home team built a 25-point halftime lead and mixed in 17 points and six assists.
His ability to stretch the floor from deep while also getting into the lane and either finishing for himself or finding shooters such as Trevor Ariza, Eric Gordon or PJ Tucker on the perimeter when the defense collapses gives the Rockets an additional dimension they were missing in prior versions.
Houston also mixed in pick-and-rolls with Gobert’s man at times in an effort to force the big man into switches and pull him away from the rim, and Harden drained a number of contested looks from deep when the switches didn’t come and Utah’s defenders went underneath in an effort to prevent mismatches.
He also put the finishing touches on the win with a stretch of eight straight points for his team after the Jazz climbed to within 11 in the fourth quarter.
Still, this was a Jazz team that was second in the league in defensive rating, per NBA.com, and figures to provide more of a challenge, especially when it is not less than two days removed from a grueling first-round series with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
To hear Harden say it, though, the Rockets are equipped to deal with it as they attempt to clinch their spot in the Western Conference Finals.