Rockets, Harden crush weary Jazz in Game 1

(Reuters) James Harden scored a gamehigh 41 points, and the Houston Rockets turned a blistering first half into a 110-96 victory over the Utah Jazz yesterday at Toyota Center in Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal series.

Harden converted 7 of 12 3-point attempts and added eight rebounds and seven assists to his line. After Utah sliced what was once a 27-point deficit to 11 early in the fourth quarter, Harden restored order with three free throws, a 3-pointer and a second-chance basket of his own miss.

Clint Capela recorded a double-double of 16 points and 12 rebounds while PJ Tucker chipped in 15 points on 6-for-8 shooting, including 3-of-5 from behind the arc. Chris Paul tallied 17 points, six assists and four steals for the Rockets, who will host Game 2 on Wednesday night.

Donovan Mitchell and Jae Crowder scored 21 points apiece for the Jazz, coming off a grueling series against Oklahoma City that concluded late Friday. Joe Ingles added 15 points, six rebounds and five assists while Rudy Gobert totaled 11 points and nine boards but failed to impact the game defensively.

The first half offered a glimpse of the Rockets at their very best — Harden and Paul in particular. Paul masterfully orchestrated the offense in the opening quarter, finding teammates for a pair of assists while also uncovering crevices for his own shot. Paul scored nine points in the first.

Harden was even more potent, converting a 3-pointer and a driving layup in succession to push the lead to 26-15. By the close of the frame, Harden and Paul had combined for as many points (21) as Utah managed, with the Rockets carrying a 13-point lead into the second. They didn’t let up.

When Capela followed a Harden 3-pointer with a finger roll after a hard cut to the basket, Houstonled 49-29 at the 6:42 mark of the second quarter. Down the stretch of the half, Capela added a dunk before Harden and Tucker combined for three 3-pointers, the second corner trey from Tucker pushing the advantage to 64-37 with just over a minute remaining in the first half.

Houston shot 53.5 percent (23 of 43) before the break, including a scorching 10-of-16 on threes. The Jazz mustered better energy in the second half, but the 27-point deficit proved too damaging.

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