EditorsNote: adds Crowder quote
Chris Paul and Clint Capela recorded double-doubles and the visiting Houston Rockets turned a stifling defensive performance into a 100-87 win over the Utah Jazz on Sunday and a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference semifinals.
The Rockets can close out the best-of-seven series on Tuesday in Game 5 at Houston.
With the Rockets shooting miserably from the perimeter — Houston missed 28 of 38 3-point attempts — Paul was a terror in the midrange, finishing with a game-high 27 points plus 12 rebounds, six assists and two steals. He committed just one turnover on his 33rd birthday.
Capela continued his series-long domination of Jazz center Rudy Gobert, posting 12 points, 15 rebounds, six blocks and two steals. James Harden scored 24 points on 8-of-22 shooting.
The Jazz were stifled throughout offensively, shooting a series-worst 38.6 percent, including 7 for 29 on 3-point attempts.
Donovan Mitchell paced Utah with 25 points but shot 8 of 24 from the floor. Joe Ingles added 15 points and eight boards while Gobert had 11 points and 10 boards but had a game-worst minus-27 rating.
Even though the Rockets posted a wire-to-wire win, Paul isn’t ready to declare victory in the series.
“It’s the process, man,” he said postgame on TNT. “I’ve been here before, 3-1. (Stuff) went bad real quick. It is what it is. We’re just enjoying the process. Get home, see my family. A real birthday gift. I’ll take it.”
The 3-1 lead he was referring to was the 2015 Western Conference semifinals, when Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers fell to Harden and the Rockets.
Houston led Sunday by as many as 19 points.
The Rockets didn’t allow the desperate Jazz an early emotional foothold, darting to an eight-point lead by the midpoint of the first quarter and holding on through a Utah run led by Dante Exum, who scored nine points on 4-of-5 shooting in the opening period.
The penultimate Exum basket of the first pulled the Jazz to within 21-19, but Houston pushed the lead back to seven and stretched it to 38-23 when Luc Mbah a Moute converted a three-point play early in the second.
That early burst in the second provided the Rockets the cushion they needed to overcome their errant shooting.
Harden and Paul combined for 30 first-half points but missed all six of their 3-point attempts. Houston had to rely on defense, and it proved up to the task until Mitchell caught fire late in the half, scoring eight consecutive points to pull the Jazz to within five points. Harden then converted a driving layup and Paul a three-point play to push the lead to 58-48 at the break.
Jazz forward Jae Crowder said, “Today was tough, just to get off and generate a lot of offense to go our way. We went on runs the few times we did, but we couldn’t sustain it.”
—Field Level Media