The ridiculous, overplayed narrative about how Chris Paul had never made it out of the conference semifinals was a popular talking point for TNT color commentator and former NBA player Reggie Miller on Tuesday night. Whether or not that was weighing on Paul, he certainly brought his A game for the Rockets 112-102 win over the Jazz to end the series and send he and his teammates to the Western Conference Finals.
Paul had a playoff career high 41 points and the Jazz were hobbled, losing rookie phenom Donovan Mitchell in the fourth quarter to a knee injury. That followed a 20-point third quarter for Donovan that put the Jazz up by three. But, Paul's offense (18 in the fourth quarter) and the Rockets team defense was enough to get the Rockets out of the second round and on a likely collision course with the Golden State Warriors.
4. Rudy Gobert
Gobert wasn't terrible in the series, but he wasn't the guy that dominated defensively throughout the season. Rockets center Clint Capela outplayed him. Gobert's lumbering, slow-footed perimeter defense hurt the Jazz. As good as he is at protecting the rim, he struggled in the series.
3. Utah's training room.
By the end of the series, the Jazz trainers must have been shaking their heads. Ricky Rubio didn't play at all, Dante Exum was lost to a hamstring injury in game four, Derrick Favors was hobbled much of the series with an ankle injury and Donovan Mitchell went out early in the fourth quarter Tuesday with a knee injury.
2. Charles Barkley's anti-Houston game.
Barkley, who is not a fan of the Rockets, is notorious for his negative comments about his former team. And he isn't wrong when he says the Rockets are too often lazy with the ball. But, after the game five win, Barkely went on TNT and said he would be surprised if the Western Conference Finals went five games if the Rockets face the Warrirors. Pardon our eye roll, Chuckster.
1. Utah fans.
The fans in Salt Lake City are some of the nastiest in the NBA, and they are also some of the loudest. They won't get another chance to cheer until next season. As fans ourselves, we don't normally wish that on anyone, but we'll make an exception with Jazz fans.
4. P.J. Tucker
No one denies how important the defensive tenacity and grit Tucker displays every game has been critical for the Rockets, but his shooting has been perhaps the most pleasant surprise. On Tuesday night, Tucker went 5-7 from beyond the arc with 19 points and 6 rebounds. They will need more of those types of games from Tucker, Eric Gordon, Gerald Green and Trevor Ariza as they go deeper into the playoffs.
3. Coach Hakeem Olajuwon
In the last three games against Utah, Clint Capela had 15 blocks. Sitting over on the bench was his mentor, Olajuwon, the greatest shot blocker in NBA history. Capela has a swagger about him and tremendous confidence. He's also a tremendous athlete who has been brilliant for the entire playoffs so far.
2. Jeff Bzdelik
If the Rockets are able to get any further in the playoffs, you can give a lot of credit to the Rockets assistant head coach, Bzdelik, who is a defensive wizard. The Rockets were sixth in defensive rating in the regular season. They are second only to Golden State in the playoffs. Next to the addition of Paul, it has been the single biggest factor in their success.
1. Chris Paul
Paul became the first player in NBA history to have at least 41 points, 10 assists and 0 turnovers in a playoff game. In the last three games of the series, Paul had 22 assists and one turnover. He also became the first Rocket since 1985 to rack up 40 points and 10 assists in a playoff game. Oh, and Paul hit the last eight three pointers he attempted. He was simply phenomenal and the glue that held this team together.