The Houston Rockets dominated the Utah Jazz on both ends of the court as they blew out Utah in Game 1.
It seems like forever ago when the Houston Rockets were struggling defensively earlier this season, because their defense has been elite in recent weeks. Since the All-Star break, the Rockets have had the league’s second best defense, and they carried that momentum right into the first game of the postseason.
The Rockets held Utah to just 39 percent shooting from the field and 25.9 percent shooting from the 3-point line. Houston limited Donovan Mitchell to 19 points on a not-so-efficient 7-for-18 shooting, 0 assists and forced him into 5 turnovers. Jae Crowder led Utah’s bench in scoring with 9 points, but he shot just 1-for-9 from the field.
The Rockets held the Jazz to just 90 points in the entire game and Utah never led after the 6:15 mark in the first quarter. James Harden led Houston with 29 points and 10 assists. Clint Capela added 16 points and 12 rebounds. In all, seven players on the Rockets scored in double figures as Harden and Chris Paul repeatedly got into the middle of Utah’s defense, forcing the Jazz to collapse and leave Houston’s shooters open.
The Jazz took a page out of the Milwaukee Bucks’ defensive playbook, as they tried to completely take away Harden’s left hand and force him to drive towards Rudy Gobert, the raining Defensive Player of the Year. As a result, Capela was on the receiving end of a lot of lobs and P.J. Tucker and Eric Gordon had open 3-pointers all game.
This defensive strategy only stands a chance at slowing down Houston’s offense if they miss their open 3s. However, when the Rockets are shooting 36.6 percent from 3-point range like they did on Sunday evening, they can really pour in points.
The Rockets won’t have seven players finish with double figure scoring on every night, but if they continue to play with this level of defensive intensity throughout the first round, they should beat the Jazz in five games or less for the second consecutive year.