HOUSTON (AP) — In a series where their shots weren’t falling like normal, the Houston Rockets managed to close it out with some tough defense.
James Harden scored 26 points and the Rockets outlasted the Utah Jazz 100-93 on Wednesday night to win their first-round playoff series 4-1.
Houston advanced to the Western Conference semifinals for the third straight season and will face the winner of the Los Angeles Clippers-Golden State Warriors series.
The Rockets had 12 steals and 12 blocks, the first playoff game where they had double figures in both since Game 5 of the 1994 Western Conference finals, just before they went on to win their first title.
“We didn’t make as many shots as we wanted to … but these last few games we hung our hat on defense,” Harden said.
Ricky Rubio cut Houston’s lead to 94-93 on a jump shot with about a minute left. P.J. Tucker missed two free throws, but grabbed a loose ball seconds later and was fouled again. This time he made both shots to make it 96-93.
Harden blocked a shot by Ruby Gobert on Utah’s next possession and he made two free throws to extend the lead to 98-93 with 38 seconds left.
Donovan Mitchell, who was just 4 of 22, missed a 3-pointer after that and Chris Paul added two more free throws to secure the victory.
“We didn’t want to go back to Utah,” Paul said. “We wanted to take care of business tonight. All night we were talking about energy. It’s always hard to beat a team and close them out.”
The Rockets got a solid game from Clint Capela, who had 16 points and 10 rebounds. He acknowledged having trouble breathing in the Game 4 loss because of an upper respiratory infection and was held to just four points.
“I felt a lot better,” Capela said. “I definitely felt like another person than (I did) the last game.”
After scoring 31 points to lead Utah to the victory in Game 4, Mitchell managed just 12 points on a night he missed all nine of his 3-point attempts.
“I’m upset but I’m going to be better,” the second-year player said. “Simply put. I wasn’t tonight and I’ll be better.”
Jazz coach Quin Snyder lamented the difficulties of dealing with a veteran coach like Mike D’Antoni and perennial All-Stars Paul and Harden.
“They’re so cerebral that they’re able to find weaknesses in your defense,” he said.
Harden struggled to get going early and didn’t score in the first quarter. But after missing his first seven shots and 11 of his first 12 attempts, he finally found a rhythm.
Royce O’Neal came off the bench to lead Utah with 18 points, Rubio had 17 and Jae Crowder added 15. Gobert wasn’t much of a factor in this one, scoring just nine points with 10 rebounds.
The Jazz opened the fourth quarter with an 8-0 run to take a 77-75 lead with 9 minutes left. Rubio had two steals and a basket to help Utah go on top.
Houston ended its scoring drought after that, scoring the next five points, capped by a three-point play from Harden to make it 80-77.
Rubio made a 3-pointer for Utah before Paul scored five quick points to extend Houston’s advantage to 85-80 with 7 minutes left.
Houston trailed by seven late in the second quarter before using a 14-3 run to lead by four entering the third. Harden scored eight of his 10 first-half points during that run. The Rockets kept it going to start the third, using a 10-2 spurt to make it 56-44 with about 10 minutes left in the quarter. Harden and Tucker had 3-pointers in that span and Capela added a dunk.
Danuel House made a 3-pointer and Harden added a layup seconds later to leave Houston up by 11 later in the quarter. But O’Neal made a 3 soon after that to before Mitchell added a three-point play to get Utah within 68-63 with about 2 minutes left in the third.
Austin Rivers ended Utah’s run with a 3-pointer to extend Houston’s lead to 71-63.
The Jazz cut the lead to 4 with less than 30 seconds left in the third after scoring four straight points, but Nene made a basket at the buzzer to leave Houston up 75-69 entering the fourth.
Harden and Paul were complimentary of Mitchell despite his struggles on Wednesday night and know he has a bright future.
“He’s confident,” Harden said. “You see what he did last game. He’s capable of taking over a game. Once he gets more comfortable in his role … the sky’s the limit for him.”
THEY SAID IT
D’Antoni on his team’s win: “Everybody contributed something and it’s by their heart and just their tenacity to get the win. Going forward we’re going to need the same thing.”
Jazz: Utah made 9 of 38 3-pointers. … Joe Ingles had 11 points and nine assists. … Rubio had 11 assists.
Rockets: Tucker set a playoff career-high with four blocks. … Paul and Gordon had 15 points apiece. … Houston made 13 3-pointers. … The Rockets had 12 steals.