HOUSTON — The Utah Jazz tried to force the left-handed James Harden to his right to make things more difficult on him on Game 1 of their first-round playoff series against the Houston Rockets on Sunday night.
It did not matter much to Harden and the Rockets though. He still led the team in scoring and helped facilitate solid offensive nights from everyone else in the starting lineup in the lopsided win.
Harden had 29 points and 10 assists to help the Rockets rout the Jazz 122-90 in the opener of the best-of-seven series.
Houston’s entire starting lineup had at least 10 points.
“They throw something at him and they might get him a little bit and he figures it out and they don’t get him anymore,” coach Mike D’Antoni said about the defensive strategy on Harden. “He’s so good offensively it makes me laugh. He’s just so good I don’t know what you do … you’re not stopping him. I don’t care what you do.”
Harden was not surprised at Utah’s defensive tactic.
“I’ve seen literally every defense you can possibly see,” he said. “So it was just a matter of adjusting and continuing to communicate with the guys of what spots they needed to be in.”
The Rockets had a double-digit lead for most of the game, but the Jazz got within five points midway through the third quarter before Houston used a big run to pull away and sail to the victory.
“The third quarter we got some stops and we didn’t get shots on the other end and that’s tough to overcome,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said.
It is the second consecutive year the teams have met in the postseason after the Rockets eliminated Utah in five games in the second round last season.
Game 2 is Wednesday night in Houston.
Houston was up by 15 in the fourth quarter before Harden, who had eight rebounds, scored six points in a 9-2 run that stretched the lead to 108-86 with four minutes left and both teams cleared their benches about a minute after that.
Rudy Gobert had 22 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Jazz after not scoring more than 15 points in a game in the playoff series against the Rockets last season. Donovan Mitchell had 19 points but did not have an assist as the Jazz went long stretches without scoring.
Mitchell was disappointed with his assist-to-turnover ratio.
“No assists. Five turnovers. That’s huge,” he said. “You can’t have no assists and five turnovers.”
Ricky Rubio started for Utah after missing four of the last five games of the regular season with a quadriceps injury. Rubio finished with 15 points.
Bucks 121, Pistons 86: MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo had 24 points and 17 rebounds in just 24 minutes, and the top-seeded Bucks showed they were serious about making a playoff run with a rout of the Pistons in Game 1. The MVP candidate ran and dunked all over the Pistons, who only really caught him when center Andre Drummond shoved him to the ground with both hands late in the third quarter after Antetokounmpo grabbed an offensive rebound with Detroit trailing by 41 points. Drummond was given a flagrant 2 foul and ejected.
Celtics 84, Pacers 74: BOSTON — Kyrie Irving and Marcus Morris each scored 20 points and Boston rallied in the second half to beat Indiana in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series. Jayson Tatum finished with 15 points. Al Horford added 10 points and 11 rebounds, and Gordon Hayward had 10 points. It was the first playoff game since 2017 for Irving and Hayward after each missed last year’s postseason with injuries.