The No. 1 seed Houston Rockets completed a gentleman’s sweep of the Utah Jazz in the second round. Star power and Houston’s ability to explode offensively proved too much for Utah. While Utah temporarily stole home court with a Game 2 victory. Houston woke up and rattled three victories in a row to include two in Utah’s hostile environment. Let’s look at the storylines that headlined this five-game series.
Houston Rockets Defeat Utah Jazz in Five Games
Chris Paul, James Harden, and Clint Capela showed the Utah Jazz why the Rockets are 50-5 when all three play together. Harden, while he struggled from three, led the way in Games 1 and 2 with 41 and 32 points, respectively. Harden averaged 28.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 7.4 assists per game, shooting 40 percent from the field in the series. The likely MVP constantly put the Jazz in tough pick-and-roll situations. Harden got to the mid-range with ease, sinking bucket after bucket. If Rudy Gobert played too close, Harden would throw lobs to Capela for easy dunks. This formula has contributed to the Rockets’ success this year.
Paul showed exactly why Houston traded for him. In the nights Harden was off, Paul provided the Rockets with consistent playmaking and buckets. Paul averaged 24.6 PPG, 7.0 RPG, and 6.2 APG, and he was the perfect partner for Harden. In the series clincher, Paul became the first player to have 40 points, 10 assists, and 0 turnovers in an NBA playoff game since turnovers became an official stat in the 1977-78 season.
For the second series in a row, Capela outplayed the opposing team’s center. This time, the victim was Gobert, a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Capela averaged 13.0 PPG, 10.2 RPG, and 3.6 BPG; he was also a menace on the defensive end. Near the end of Game 4, Capela got three blocks in a row to seal the win for Houston. He has been a spark for the Rockets all year long and is well deserving of the money he will receive this off-season.
Tough Time for Donovan Mitchell
Donovan Mitchell pretty much did whatever he wanted to do against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Round 1. That was not the case against Houston, who forced Mitchell into tough shots from the perimeter and inside. The rookie’s numbers dropped significantly from the first round to the second. He dropped from 28.5 PPG and 7.2 RPG on 36 percent three-point shooting to only 19.4 PPG, 4.4 RPG, and an abysmal 25 percent from three. The rookie showed spurts of his normal electrifying self but could never sustain it long enough to get the win. Keeping things in perspective, Mitchell did have the additional burden of point guard duties with Ricky Rubio out. That may have caused some of his other stats to dip, but the shooting struggles were very real.
One of the biggest knocks against James Harden is his lack of effort on defense. Veterans such as Paul, P.J. Tucker, and Luc Mbah a Moute were brought in to help add some grit to the Rockets and change that narrative. Paul and Harden both averaged about two steals per game and made things rough for the scoring dynamo Mitchell. The Rockets held the Jazz to only 98.6 points per game while scoring 108.6 of their own. So far this post-season, Houston ranks second in opponents points per game at 100.1, a pleasant contrast from their past years. The Rockets will need every bit of this defense they played if they hope to advance to the NBA Finals.
LOS ANGELES, UNITED STATES – MARCH 2: Clint Capela of Houston Rockets is seen during the NBA match between Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets at Staples Center in Los Angeles, United States, on March 2, 2017. (Photo by Mintaha Neslihan Eroglu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)