Posted on April 29, 2018, by Travis Pulver

Utah’s defense and Donovan Mitchell were enough for the Jazz to get by the Oklahoma City Thunder in their first round series. But beating Houston in a seven-game series would be an entirely different task. Utah’s defense is good, but is it good enough to slow down the Houston Rockets?

Well– they didn’t come close in the regular season (Houston swept Utah, 4-0), and they didn’t come close Sunday afternoon either.

Via @DefPenHoops

The Jazz knew they would need to slow James Harden down first and foremost. But just like their four regular season matchups (which he averaged 34.4 points/game in), they had no answer for him. Harden ended up with 41 points after going 12-26 from the floor and 7-12 from behind the arc.

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Both coaches were complimentary of Harden after the game (via ESPN):

“Their defense is really good — their defense is super,” Houston head coach Mike D’Antoni said. “But James is James.”

“He’s a special player,” Utah head coach Quin Synder said. “It’s hard to give credit to all the things that he does. He just impacts the game in so many mays. You have to try to make it harder for him.”

It wasn’t all Harden, of course. Chris Paul chipped in 17 points. Clint Capela had a double-double (16 points, 12 rebounds) and P.J. Tucker added 15 points.

Against Minnesota, the Rockets often started slow and had to take over in the third quarter to secure the win. But this time they got off to a strong start and never slowed down. After the first quarter, they had a 13-point lead, 34-21. An 11-2 run at the end of the second pushed the lead out to 25-points at the half, 64-39.

As usual, Houston did a significant amount of damage from behind the arc with ten three-pointers (16 attempts) in the first half. They ended the night with 17 (32 attempts).

A few halftime adjustments helped Utah close the gap a little in the third quarter. But heading into the fourth quarter, the Rockets still had an 18-point lead, 86-68. Utah continued to fight in the fourth and managed to close the gap to 14-points by the end of the game, 110-96.

Donovan Mitchell and Jae Crowder did their part with 21 points each for the Jazz. Joe Ingles had 15 points and Rudy Gobert chipped in 11. For the first time in the postseason Gobert failed to record a blocked shot.

Utah may have been a little tired having just finished off the Thunder Friday night at home. Houston, on the other hand, had been off since Wednesday night. While the quick turnaround is relevant, it is not an excuse Donovan Mitchell is willing to accept.

Via @KPRC2

“It’s a quick turnaround obviously and there’s some fatigue,” Mitchell said after the game (via ESPN). “But that wasn’t the reason for the performance.”

They will not have a lot of time to recharge their batteries before Game Two—which is Wednesday night in Houston.

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