Rockets Take Two in Utah, Lead Series 3-1: 4 Winners, 4 Losers

Clint Capela has been dominant in the paint during the playoffs.
Clint Capela has been dominant in the paint during the playoffs. Photo by Eric Sauseda
After dropping game two in Houston and losing home court advantage to the Jazz, the Rockets went into Salt Lake City and pounded Utah Saturday 113-92, in a game that wasn't even remotely as close as that. They then fought through a tough shooting night on Sunday, winning 100-87 in a rather chippy game with multiple technicals and some occasional theatrics.

The Rockets didn't shoot particularly well in either game, but their defense was outstanding against the Jazz and carried them through some difficult stretches. They now have three chances to close out the Jazz, the first Tuesday night at the Toyota Center.


4. Three pointers.

For all the hype over the three point shooting of the Rockets, they really haven't shot the three well in this series (or really in the playoffs). They have hit big shots when they needed to, but the three just hasn't been the weapon most expected it would be. Fortunately, it hasn't mattered.

3. TNT's FCC bill.

In the post game interview on TNT, Chris Paul was asked if he was thinking ahead to the Western Conference Finals. In the process of saying no, he dropped the s-bomb on live TV. Oops.

2. C.J. Paul

The real live brother of Rockets guard Chris Paul also happens to be his manager. C.J. was sitting court side in Utah in game four and was almost accidentally thrown out of the game. In a bizarre moment, one of the officials thought C.J. Paul shouted an expletive at him. It was actually a fan sitting near him. The ref momentarily ejected Chris's brother before realizing the mistake. And here we all thought his brother's name was Cliff.

1. Rudy Gobert

The Jazz center has not been a significant factor in this series. Gobert is expected to be named defensive player of the year and he's been averaging a double-double, but his impact on the game has been relatively minimal thus far. He is critically important to Utah, but has been ineffective.


4. Vernon Maxwell's Twitter game.

If you don't follow Mad Max, the former Rockets guard, on Twitter, you should. During this series (and over the life of his feed), against a Jazz team he clearly doesn't like, his tweets have been pure gold, nearly always with the hashtag #rocketsin5.

3. Clint Capela's defense.

The Rockets center seems to have come of age this year and he is growing each game in the playoffs. On Sunday night, he owned the paint with 12 points, 15 rebounds and 6 blocked shots. He even pulled out the Dikembe Mutumbo finger wag while his mentor, Hakeem Olajuown, beamed from the bench. He has been a huge difference in these playoffs.

2. Willie's Grill & Icehouse

During TNT's Inside the NBA, Charles Barkley began looking ahead to a potential Houston/Golden State Western Conference Finals matchup and waxing nostalgic about Willie's, a place he clearly enjoys some chicken fried steak, even calling out the location on Highway 6. At least Barkley likes something about Houston.

1. Midrange shots.

Who would have thought that after a year filled with records broken behind the three-point line and offense like we have rarely seen before in Houston or the league in general, it would be great defense and midrange jumpers that would put the Rockets on the verge of a trip back to the Western Conference Finals. Chris Paul's mastery of the 15 footer was as critical to winning as it was to stabilizing the offense during pressure-packed moments.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke