By KRISTIE RIEKEN AP Sports Writer
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 on 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 P.J. 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.”
Harden wasn’t surprised at Utah’s defensive tactic.
“I’ve seen literally every defense 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 Wednesday night 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.
Houston had a 12-point lead entering the fourth quarter and an 8-0 spurt, with two 3-pointers from Danuel House, extended it to 95-75 with nine minutes remaining.
The Rockets led by 17 when Harden re-entered the game about a minute later. Soon after he returned he found House behind the 3-point line in the corner and drove to the basket and finished with a one-handed slam.
The Rockets were up by 15 at halftime, but Utah opened the second half with a 10-3 run, with six points from Gobert, to cut it to 62-54 with nine minutes left in the third.
The Jazz got within five with a shot from Mitchell later in the third, before the Rockets scored next 10 points, with a 3 from Gordon and a three-point play from Harden, to make it 76-61 with about four minutes left in the quarter.
Mitchell ended a Utah scoring drought of about 4 ½ minutes after that with a 3-pointer, but Harden hit a 3 seconds later to leave the Rockets up 79-64.
Utah cut into the lead a bit after that and trailed 83-71 after three.
Jazz: Derrick Favors had 13 points. … Utah went 7 for 27 on 3s. … The Jazz had 18 turnovers. … Jae Crowder scored nine points off the bench.
Rockets: D’Antoni was back on the sideline after missing Houston’s last three regular-season games with an intestinal virus. … Hall of Famer and former Rocket Hakeem Olajuwon watched the game from a courtside seat. … Houston made 15 3-pointers, led by four from Harden.
Capela played despite dealing with an upper respiratory infection that kept him out of practice two days this week. Houston’s center said he still wasn’t feeling great and hopes he’s better by Wednesday.
“It was hard,” he said. “I would say it was probably my toughest game … it felt kind of hard to breathe like I’m used to.”
THEY SAID IT
Mitchell on moving on after the blowout loss: “Honestly we could have won this game by 90 or lost this game by 90 … for us it’s just about making adjustments and not overreacting to what happened.”
After Game 2 on Wednesday the series moves to Utah for Game 3 on Saturday and Game 4 on April 22.
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