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Harden's shooting focuses Rockets' red glare on Jazz

China Daily | Updated: 2019-04-19 09:16
Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) drives against Utah Jazz forward Royce O'Neale (23) during the first half of Game 2 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series in Houston, USA, April 17, 2019. [Photo/IC]

HOUSTON - James Harden and the Houston Rockets didn't talk about their home loss to the Utah Jazz in the second game of last year's Western Conference semifinal ahead of Game 2 of their first-round matchup on Wednesday night.

But 'The Beard' and his teammates were certainly thinking about it.

Harden put on an MVP performance with 32 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists to lead the Rockets to a second straight rout of the Utah Jazz, 118-98, for a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

The Rockets also won Game 1 of last year's series before losing that second game in Houston. They ended up winning the series in five games, but talked about the importance of maintaining focus after their 32-point win in Game 1 this season.

It was clear early that they wouldn't have that problem this time around.

"It was important for us to come out aggressive," Harden said.

"I think it was our defensive effort."

Harden, who recorded his third career playoff triple-double, had 25 points by halftime in a game the Jazz were all but out of after the first two quarters.

Game 3 is on Saturday night in Salt Lake City.

Harden controlled the game from the start as the Rockets raced out to a 39-19 lead after a first quarter that saw him score just two points fewer than the Jazz.

"What he did in that first quarter was ridiculous," coach Mike D'Antoni said. "Just dicing everybody up. When he gets it rolling, nobody's better."

Houston made 6 of 13 3-pointers in the first while Utah hit just one of its 14 tries.

The Rockets didn't let up on the attack in the second quarter, pushing their advantage to 70-44 at halftime.

Ricky Rubio was the man tasked with guarding Harden most of the night.

"He's hard but I'm not going to quit," Rubio said.

"He's one of the best scorers of all time and we're going to keep trying to find ways to make his scoring hard."

The Jazz got 17 points each from Rubio and Royce O'Neale.

Second-year star Donovan Mitchell vowed to do more after scoring 19 points in Game 1, finishing with five turnovers and no assists.

He dished out six assists in Game 2, but managed just 11 points on 5-of-19 shooting and had four turnovers as the Jazz headed home needing to turn things around quickly to avoid being swept.

"We didn't show up," Mitchell said. "Simply put. And that can't happen if we're going to get back in this series."

Houston's big early lead was also helped by 4-of-5 3-point shooting in the first half by PJ Tucker and 16 points from Eric Gordon, who made three 3-pointers.

Gordon didn't score after halftime and Tucker added four points.

Tip-ins

Jazz: Rudy Gobert had 11 points and 12 rebounds... Utah shot just 39.8 percent after shooting 39 percent in Game 1 ... Utah finished 8 of 38 on 3-pointers... Derrick Favors scored 14 points and had 12 rebounds.

Rockets: Houston, which had 17 3s, has made at least 15 3-pointers in 11 straight games ... Clint Capela had seven points and 10 rebounds ... Chris Paul added 17 points.

Remembering Nipsey

Harden wore a medallion bearing a photo of rapper and activist Nipsey Hussle, who was murdered last month, to Wednesday's game, and shared a heartfelt answer when asked why it's important to remember Hussle.

"I'm just here because he was one of my close friends," Harden said. "This journey that I'm on is for him. It's plain and simple. That name, Nip. Everybody knows that name now. So I'm just another person that's just helping that name live on."

Associated Press

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