Chris Paul says that mid-range jumpers are like layups for him.
The Houston Rockets have emphasized dunks and 3-pointers in becoming one of the NBA’s most efficient offenses but Paul’s in-between jumpers proved to be the difference when the long-range shots weren’t falling.
“I wasn’t joking about that,” Paul said of his layup comment. “If (Rudy) Gobert’s going to back, that’s what I’m going to shoot.”
Paul had 27 points and 12 rebounds while James Harden scored 24 points to power the Houston Rockets to a 100-87 win over the Utah Jazz on Sunday night, taking a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference semifinal series.
“It showed a lot of grit for us to come in here and win two games,” Paul said.
Paul, playing the sidekick to Harden for most of his first season in Houston, took center stage, controlling the tempo and getting to his favorite spots as the Rockets led from start to finish.
“Chris is shooting those shots like a layup,” Harden said. “He was extremely aggressive tonight, which we need from him.”
Donovan Mitchell scored 25 before fouling out and Joe Ingles had 15 for the Jazz.
Mitchell started finding lanes to the basket late and got the Jazz within 85-80 after he fueled a 10-2 run, sending the crowd into a frenzy. But Paul, who matched his scoring high for this playoff run, hit a pull-up jumper and found Trevor Ariza for a 3-pointer to put the Rockets back up by double digits and they never looked back.
Houston, which has been known for their offensive firepower, put forth a disruptive defensive effort.
Clint Capela, the anchor of the Houston defense, had 12 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks, one of which featured a Dikembe Mutombo-like finger wag in the fourth quarter.
“We missed 22 shots at the rim,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said. “We had our chances and didn’t convert. Some of them were contested. Some of them were open. You’re not going to get any better shot.”
The Rockets went up by 15 in the second quarter before the Jazz closed to 51-46 on back-to-back three-point plays by Mitchell. Utah trailed 58-48 at the half.
Neither team was accurate from beyond the arc as the Jazz were 7-for-29 and Houston went 10-for-38.
“There’s all different ways to win. We’re not strictly a jump-shooting team,” D’Antoni said. “Chris has the mid-range, James gets to the hole and you got Clint down there. We’ve got a lot of other stuff we can go to.”
Already without Ricky Rubio, the Jazz lost back-up point guard Dante Exum in the third quarter, also to a hamstring injury. Exum was a surprising offensive spark for the Jazz with 9 points in the first period, but picked up three fouls guarding Harden.
“Houston is that good. Give them credit. They know how to control a game,” Snyder said. “In spite of that, I thought we just hung in there and took shots and kept coming and kept coming and eventually couldn’t get over the hill.”
Rockets: Harden’s 14 first-quarter points were the most for him in the opening period this postseason. … Flying to close out on an Ingles’ 3-pointer in the second quarter, P.J. Tucker raked the Jazz sharpshooter across the face and earned a Flagrant 1. … Capela and Mitchell got double technical fouls fighting for rebound in the fourth quarter and Houston coach Mike D’Antoni got another for his reaction to the play.
Jazz: Rubio missed his fourth straight game due to a left hamstring strain suffered in opening round but is close to returning.
Rudy Gobert is a leading candidate for Defensive Player of the Year but Capela has been the most significant deterrent to getting to the basket in this series. He altered 20 shots in this game and has 13 blocks in the series while also making his presence known on the offensive end with double-digit scoring in each contest. “Every single night, he has our back,” said Harden, who got in Capela’s face and yelled his approval at the end of the game. “He doesn’t get a lot of credit for it and doesn’t ask for a lot.”
Near the end of the game, Capela told D’Antoni he needed a rest. But the Rockets called a time out and then the big center said he could finish. He went out and got a couple more blocks. “He pole-vaulted over the hurdle. He cleared it by a lot. The guy’s incredible the whole time,” D’Antoni said.
The series shifts back to Houston for Game 5.