Harden scores 29 as Rockets rout Jazz in Game 1

HOUSTON (AP) — The Utah Jazz tried to force the left-handed James Harden to his right to make things more difficult on him on Game 1 of their first-round playoff series against the Houston Rockets last Sunday night.

Didn’t matter much to Harden and the Rockets though. He still led the team in scoring and helped facilitate solid offensive nights from everyone else in the starting lineup in the lopsided win.

Harden had 29 points and 10 assists to help the Rockets rout the Jazz 122-90 in the opener of the best-of-seven series.

Houston’s entire starting lineup had at least 10 points. Eric Gordon had 17, Clint Capela scored 16, Chris Paul added 14 and PJ Tucker had 11.

“They throw something at him and they might get him a little bit and he figures it out and they don’t get him anymore,” coach Mike D’Antoni said about the defensive strategy on Harden. “He’s so good offensively it makes me laugh. He’s just so good I don’t know what you do … you’re not stopping him. I don’t care what you do.”

Houston Rockets guard James Harden (R) drives to the basket as Utah Jazz centre Rudy Gobert defends. – AP

Harden wasn’t surprised at Utah’s defensive tactic.

“I’ve seen literally every defence you can possibly see,” he said. “So it was just a matter of adjusting and continuing to communicate with the guys of what spots they needed to be in.”

The Rockets had a double-digit lead for most of the game, but the Jazz got within five points midway through the third quarter before Houston used a big run to pull away and sail to the victory.

“The third quarter we got some stops and we didn’t get shots on the other end and that’s tough to overcome,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said.

It’s the second consecutive year the teams have met in the postseason after the Rockets eliminated Utah in five games in the second round last season.

Game 2 is tonight in Houston.

Houston was up by 15 in the fourth quarter before Harden, who had eight rebounds, scored six points in a 9-2 run that stretched the lead to 108-86 with four minutes left and both teams cleared their benches about a minute after that.

Rudy Gobert had 22 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Jazz after not scoring more than 15 points in a game in the playoff series against the Rockets last season. Donovan Mitchell had 19 points, but did not have an assist as the Jazz went long stretches without scoring.

Mitchell was disappointed with his assist-to-turnover ratio.

“No assists. Five turnovers. That’s huge,” he said. “You can’t have no assists and five turnovers.”

Ricky Rubio started after missing four of the last five games of the regular season with a quadriceps injury. Rubio, who finished with 15 points, didn’t play against Houston in the playoffs last season after injuring his hamstring in a first-round series win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.