The Houston Rockets overcame a historically rough shooting night by James Harden to grab a commanding 3-0 series lead over the Utah Jazz with a 104-101 victory in Game 3 on Saturday.
Harden (22 points and 10 assists) managed a double-double despite missing his first 15 shot attempts. Chris Paul contributed 18 points to the cause.
Donovan Mitchell had 34 points in a losing effort for the Jazz.
Rockets' Supporting Cast Proves Value Through Harden's Struggles
Harden played a key role in helping Houston cruise to a 2-0 series lead, but as he endured one of his toughest shooting nights, his supporting cast showed its worth.
The reigning league MVP entered the game averaging 30.5 points on 44 percent shooting through the first two games. He couldn't buy a basket in the first half of Game 3, though, as he went 0-of-10 from the field and 0-of-5 from beyond the arc.
He still managed six points thanks to his ability to get to the free-throw line—but it was clear he was not his typical self from the start.
Despite a rough first half from their best player, the Rockets entered halftime down only five.
Having a star struggle that mightily would figure to put a team in a big hole, especially on the road. But the Rockets' role players kept the team afloat.
Houston players not named Harden shot 17-of-36 (47.2 percent) in the first half. Each of the eight other players to enter the game in the first half made at least one field goal, with a total of six players making at least one trey.
Most notably, Chris Paul picked up his All-Star teammate by going 5-of-9 while knocking down a pair of triples en route to 12 points in the first half.
Things would not go much better for Harden after the break, either. The two-time defending scoring champ did not make a shot until just more than seven minutes remained in the game, missing his first 15 attempts.
Meanwhile, he also had to deal with foul trouble, picking up his fourth foul early in the third.
It was obviously an off night for Harden, but the Rockets found a way to stay in the game thanks to their supporting cast. In fact, they were winning when Harden finally broke his drought with a dunk early in the fourth.
Paul wasn't the only one contributing, either. Clint Capela (11 points and 14 rebounds), PJ Tucker (10), Eric Gordon (12) and Austin Rivers (11) all found ways to put points on the board.
That team effort gave Harden time to try to shoot himself out of his slump. While he was ultimately unable to do so on this night (3-of-20), his teammates didn't just throw in the towel.
Sure, Houston stands virtually no chance of dethroning the Golden State Warriors if Harden shoots the way he did Saturday night. But coach Mike D'Antoni has to be encouraged by what he saw out of the supporting cast.
Donovan Mitchell Hero Ball Can't Save Jazz's Season
Mitchell was able to shake off a rough Game 2 performance to propel the Jazz to an early lead in Game 3. However, he can't take down the Rockets on his own.
That much was clear Saturday.
The second-year star ended the regular season on a strong note, shooting 46.1 percent from the field and 45.1 percent from three-point range since the All-Star break. He had been unable to carry that momentum into the postseason—until the start of Game 3.
Coming off a 5-of-19 performance that saw him put up just 11 points in a 20-point loss in Game 2, Mitchell wasted no time in showing he was ready to turn things around in the comforts of his home arena. He sparked the Jazz to an early lead by going off for 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting while playing 11 minutes in the opening quarter.
That strong start put everyone on notice:
He ended the first half with 21 points.
On a night where Derrick Favors was the only other Utah player in double figures through three quarters, having Mitchell carry the team early on proved to be key. It also exposed the Utah's dependency on its star when he went cold.
Mitchell went through a stretch of missing 11 consecutive shots from the floor over the span of two full quarters. He managed to score seven points in the final 94 seconds to give his team a chance at a potential game-tying bucket.
However, he was unable to pull out the come-from-behind victory, essentially by himself.
Utah will need Joe Ingles (eight points, 2-of-8 from three-point range in Game 3), among others, to play better to truly have a chance of winning the series. Having Mitchell recapture his first-quarter magic would give the Jazz a chance to compete, but it will be tough for him to carry his team to four straight victories by playing hero ball.
Houston will have the opportunity to try to close out the series on Monday, with Game 4 tipping off at the Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City at 10:30 p.m. ET.