James Harden Drops 29 as Rockets Cruise to Blowout Win vs. Jazz in Game 1

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorApril 15, 2019

HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 14: James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets handles the ball against the Utah Jazz during Game One of Round One of the 2019 NBA Playoffs on April 14, 2019 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)
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James Harden posted 29 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds as the No. 4 seed Houston Rockets beat the No. 5 Utah Jazz 122-90 in Game 1 of their NBA Western Conference playoff series on Sunday.

Clint Capela added 16 points and 12 rebounds, and Chris Paul had 14 points and seven assists.

Rudy Gobert led the Jazz with 22 points and 12 rebounds.

     

Jazz Must Ditch Scheme, Defend James Harden Straight Up

Defending Harden is a near-impossible task for any team, and the Jazz were no exception on Sunday.

Utah either doubled or shaded Harden to his right, but the strategies were unsuccessful, as Alykhan Bijani of The Athletic pointed out:

The left-hander posted 17 points on 7-of-14 shooting and seven assists after 24 minutes.

When he wasn't scoring, he was finding his teammates, as Andy Larsen of the Salt Lake Tribune noted:

If the lane was clogged, Harden found Tucker in the corner for threes:

Bijani explained why Tucker found himself open frequently:

If the paint was open, Harden found Capela for lob dunks:

If Harden took it upon himself to score, he did:

Utah's defense wasn't necessarily a bad idea in theory. It's worked for the Milwaukee Bucks:

However, Mike Prada of SB Nation offered a theory as to why it worked for the Bucks and not the Jazz:

Perhaps the Jazz make some slight adjustments and give the strategy another chance, but they may be better off employing Tony Jones of The Athletic's idea:

Ultimately, the Jazz lost by 32 on a night where the Rockets shot a pedestrian 36.6 percent from three-point range. That's not a good sign, and significant adjustments are clearly needed.

    

Lethal Offense, 3-Point Defense Give Rockets Real Shot at a Sweep

The 50-32 Jazz went 30-11 in the second half of the season and are one of three teams to finish top-five in offensive and defensive rating after the All-Star break, per NBA.com.

However, Utah is facing one of the two other teams in the Rockets.

The Jazz may have run into a buzzsaw if the first game is any indication.

On defense, Utah was forced to pick its poison between Tucker or Danuel House (via the corner three), Capela (via work in the paint) or Harden (via everywhere) throughout the night, and they frankly had no chance as the Rockets turned in a near-perfect performance in a 32-point win.

Take this play for example:

The Jazz chose to sell out and challenge House on the perimeter, but the Rockets guard faked and drove to the empty lane for an easy dunk.

Another example can be found here with Paul finding Capela in the open lane off the pick-and-roll for an easy two. The flawless execution simply forces Utah into making difficult choices:

On the perimeter, the Rockets were getting off a bunch of open three-pointers. They weren't always successful with those threes, but they still knocked down 15 and made 50.5 percent of their field goals overall.

The Rockets defense also poses a significant problem for Utah's scoring attack.

Houston has only allowed opponents to make 34 percent of their three-pointers, which is the second-best mark in the league. Houston also was second in defensive rating after the All-Star break, per NBA.com.

The Jazz had another issue, however: They couldn't even get many three-point shots off at the beginning of the game:

That changed through the course of the night, but Utah still made just seven of 27 shots from beyond the arc.

Granted, one matchup doesn't dictate an entire series. Exhibit A in NBA history is the 1985 NBA Finals, when the Boston Celtics beat the Los Angeles Lakers 148-114 in Game 1 before losing the championship 4-2.

However, Houston looks invincible right now, and that could lead to a quick exit for the Jazz, who simply may have gotten a bad and unlucky first-round draw.

                        

What's Next?

Houston will host Utah in Game 2 on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. ET.

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