SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — When Houston’s offense gets going, the Rockets are nearly impossible to beat.
James Harden had 25 points and 12 assists to lead Houston to a 113-92 win over Utah in Game 3 of their Western Conference semifinals series on Friday night.
Eric Gordon added 25 points and Chris Paul had 15 points, seven rebounds and six assists for the Rockets. Houston beat Utah in Salt Lake City for the third time this season to take a 2-1 series lead. Game 4 is on Sunday.
The Rockets attacked the Jazz everywhere en route to rolling up 70 points before halftime. When Utah drove Houston off the perimeter, it yielded repeated slashes to the rim for layups. When the Jazz dropped back in to shore up the interior, the Rockets came up with well-timed 3-pointers to keep the heat on.
“We’re just not going to force anything,” Harden said. “Whatever they give us, we’re going to take and we’re going to have confidence in our guys and we’re going to make shots.
Royce O’ Neale scored 17 points. Alec Burks chipped in 14 points while Rudy Gobert added 12 points and nine rebounds for the Jazz.
Utah never got on track on offense. The Jazz shot poorly over the first three quarters and committed 16 turnovers. Houston scored 19 points off those miscues.
“I thought our defense was superb,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We were hitting shots all over the place. We just got a hold of it, kept the crowd out of it and kept them on their heels. You could see the guys feeding off good defense after good defense. When you do that and your energy is right, the shots start to go down and good things happen.”
Houston could not have scripted a much better start than what the Rockets produced on Friday night.
A listless first-half effort ultimately sealed Houston’s fate in Game 2. The Rockets avoided enduring another slow start by clamping down on defense and playing efficient offense.
Houston picked apart Utah’s defense practically from the opening tip. The Rockets opened the game by scoring baskets on six of their first seven possessions. Harden capped the flurry with his first basket to put Houston up 15-5.
It only grew worse for the Jazz from there. The Rockets led by as many as 22 in the first quarter, taking a 37-15 lead on back-to-back baskets from Harden and Gerald Green.
Houston made 16 of its 26 shots in the first quarter and totaled 39 points in the period.
“They were focused and determined to do what they wanted to do,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “We just didn’t provide enough resistance in a lot of areas.”
As effective as the Rockets were on offense, their defense proved equally troublesome for Utah. Houston forced the Jazz to commit six turnovers before the start of the second quarter and scored nine points off those turnovers.
“They just took us out of our rhythm and we can’t let that happen,” guard Donovan Mitchell said. “They were the aggressor all night and we got to be able to understand they’re gonna be aggressive and we’ve got to be able to counter.”
Utah cut Houston’s lead 49-34 midway through the second quarter after O’ Neale scored three straight baskets to fuel a 9-0 run. Clint Capela ended the run with a dunk and the Rockets proceeded to outscore the Jazz 31-9 over a 10 minute stretch extending into the third quarter.
They pushed their lead to 80-43 on a driving layup from Ariza with 8:01 left in the quarter.
Rockets: Gordon finished with a postseason-high in points. …Houston did not commit a turnover in the first quarter. … The Rockets outscored the Jazz 20-10 in fastbreak points after totaling just five in Game 2. … Houston finished with 50 points in the paint for the second straight game.
Jazz: Derrick Favors exited with an ankle sprain in the third quarter. Favors totaled two points, two rebounds and two assists in 13 minutes. … Houston’s 39 first quarter points is the most given up by Utah in any quarter in a playoff game this season. … Mitchell scored only 10 points after going just 4-of-16 from the field.
BACK TO FORM
Eric Gordon got his shooting groove back in Game 3. Gordon attacked the rim early and then hit several key 3-pointers as the game progressed. He ended up going 8-of-13 from the field and shooting 50 percent from the 3-point line.
It marked a big change of pace for Gordon who has struggled to find his shot at times during the postseason. Coming into Friday night, he had shot just 31.4 percent from the field and averaged 12.9 points over seven playoff games
“I just got to continue to be aggressive,” Gordon said. “It doesn’t change for me.”