The danger of a Game Two at home after a Game One victory was clearly not lost on the Houston Rockets. Realizing that just one year ago Utah won at Toyota Center in Game Two of the Western Conference Semifinals, the Rockets came out fired up and routed the Jazz 118-98.
That gives the Rockets a 2-0 lead in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs and opportunity to sweep the Jazz in Utah. Here were Wednesday night's four winners and four losers.
Harden went off in the first half and cruised in the second finishing with 32 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists including 6 made three pointers. He also took the all-time Rockets lead for playoff assists over Hakeem Olajuwon and his triple-double was his third for the Rockets in the playoffs — every other Rocket has had four total in team history. M-V-P. M-V-P.
There is a reason why the Jazz were one of the better rebounding teams in the NBA (and why the Rockets were one of the worst). Fortunately, the rebounding difference on the offensive end (15-8) didn't affect the outcome, especially since the Rockets outrebounded the Jazz on the other end of the floor, but that is one area where the Rockets will need to place additional focus for game three.
Rockets Defense (again)
With only a couple of moments in the third quarter as an exception, the Rockets were once again dominant on the defensive end of the floor. The Jazz shot only 39 percent from the floor and only 21 percent from three. If they can't do better than 20-plus percent from beyond the arc, this playoff series will be offer quick.
When the game got a little closer in the third quarter — in fairness, it wasn't ever closer than 15 — Coach Mike D'Antoni put Austin Rivers, Kenneth Faried and Danuel House. Their energy, particularly on the defensive end, and around the basket sparked the team and ballooned the lead back to 24 quickly. The quality of depth on the team makes them particularly dangerous.
Rockets Turnover Battle
Too often, the Rockets looked sloppy after getting a big lead. It didn't ultimately hurt them, but 18 turnovers to only 12 for Utah isn't heading in the right direction. Many of the turnovers were ugly, the result of lazy passes or lazy plays. It's human nature to let up a bit, but the Rockets will need that killer instinct to finish this team off in Utah.
Donovan Mitchell (again)
Utah's best player has been a non-factor in this series. In game two, he went 5-19 from the floor including 1-8 from three for 11 points and only one assist. He did contribute 12 rebounds but Mitchell's disappearing act — whether it is the result of the Rockets defense or just a tough series for the young guard — is killing the Jazz.
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Utah Three-Point Shooting
Twenty-one percent for a team that shot better than 36 percent in the regular season ain't gonna get it done. The Rockets strategy of leaving certain players open — cough...Ricky Rubio...cough — and closing out hard on others has clearly had an impact on Jazz shooters. Joe Ingles, a reliable distance shooter, went 1-6 on Wednesday from beyond the arc and Kyle Korver, one of the best three point shooters of all time, has been a total zero.
Ted Cruz Impersonators
Their careers are ruined now that Jazz rookie guard Grayson Allen has appeared on national TV. It's over.