Posted on April 25, 2019, by Travis Pulver

The Houston Rockets are going to go as far as James Harden can carry them. That statement has been said by many and widely believed to be true. While it certainly helps if the reigning MVP has a good game, it is starting to look like the Rockets aren’t as dependent on him as we may think.

Harden did play an integral part in Wednesday night’s series-clinching win over the Utah Jazz. But he got off to a slow start. He failed to score in the first quarter, missed his first seven shots, and was 1 for 12 before he finally began to find any rhythm.

Via @ScrewstonCorey

So, with Harden struggling on the offensive side, the team had to lean more on other players for an offensive thrust and their defense—and it worked.

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Harden still lead the way with 26 points, six rebounds, and six assists. But the team also got a double-double out of Clint Capela (16 points and ten rebounds) and a solid stat line from Chris Paul as well (15 points, eight rebounds, and five assists).

The most impressive part of Houston’s game, however, was their defense. As a team, they recorded 12 steals and 12 blocks (Harden and P.J. Tucker had four each, Capela had three, and Eric Gordon had one). Donovan Mitchel, Utah’s hero from Game Four, was held to just 12 points and went just 4-22 from the floor (and 0-9 from three-point range).

Houston held Utah to 37.2 percent shooting from the floor and just 23.7 percent (9-38) from three-point range.

Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni had this to say after the game, via ESPN:

“Everybody contributed something and it’s by their heart and just their tenacity to get the win. Going forward we’re going to need the same thing.”  

The game remained relatively close throughout the contest. At the end of the first, the score was tied, 20-20. Utah began to pull ahead late in the second, leading by as much as seven points, 39-32 with about three and a half minutes to go. But Houston was able to make a late push and went into the half leading by four, 46-42.

In the second half, Houston got off to a strong start and extended the lead out to 12 rather quickly. But Utah kept the game from getting out of hand and narrowed the gap down to six going into the fourth.

The Jazz quickly erased the deficit and kept the game close up until the final moments. But down by a point with less than a minute to go, the Rockets hit a series of free throws by P.J. Tucker, James Harden, and Chris Paul to ice the game and make the final 100-93.  

“We didn’t make as many shots as we wanted to … but these last few games we hung our hat on defense,” Harden said after the game.

With the Los Angeles Clippers recording an upset win against the Golden State Warriors, the Rockets will have to wait to see who their semifinal opponent will be. But if the San Antonio Spurs are able to mount a comeback and beat the Nuggets, they will face Portland in the next round.

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