Harden scores 41 as Rockets blast past Jazz in series opener

James Harden (L) of the Houston Rockets drives to the basket defended by Royce O'Neale of the Utah Jazz
AFP

Los Angeles (AFP) – James Harden scored 41 points as the Houston Rockets dominated the Utah Jazz 110-96 on Sunday in the opening game of their NBA Western Conference second-round playoff series.

The Rockets, owners of the best record in the regular season, were in control throughout, connecting on 17 of 32 three-point attempts and leading by as many as 27 over a Jazz team that eliminated Oklahoma City on Sunday in the sixth game of a bruising first-round series.

“We had energy from beginning of the game,” said Harden, who pulled down eight rebounds and handed out seven assists. “We knew what they just went through, how tough their last series was.

“We had a comprehensive rest,” added Harden, whose Rockets finished off the Minnesota Timberwolves 4-1 on Wednesday. “So we wanted to come out here and pick up the pace up — aggressively get stops and aggressively move the ball, and we did that.”

Point guard Chris Paul added 17 points, six assists and four rebounds for the Rockets, who had 16 points from Clint Capela and 15 from PJ Tucker.

Donovan Mitchell, starting at point guard in place of injured Ricky Rubio, and reserve Jae Crowder scored 21 apiece for the Jazz.

But Utah offered no real resistance. They trailed by 13 after the first quarter and with their potent offense clicking the Rockets pushed that lead to 27 with less than two minutes left in the first half.

Houston led by 25 at the break, and Utah wouldn’t get the deficit below 11 points in the second half.

The Jazz got a scare late in the fourth when Mitchell rolled his ankle as he drove to the basket, Houston’s Eric Gordon stepping on his dragging foot.

Mitchell limped to the bench but soon re-entered the game.

Harden notched the sixth 40-point playoff game of his career and the Rockets posted their fourth straight double-digit win of the playoffs.

Houston will try to extend their series lead when they host game two on Wednesday.

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