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NBA: Rockets move on after shutting down Jazz

Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) handles the ball against Utah Jazz forward Royce O’Neal (23) during the first quarter in game five of the first round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. Erik Williams, USA TODAY Sports/Reuters

James Harden scored a game-high 26 points despite struggling with his shot, and the Houston Rockets relied on their defense down the stretch of their 100-93 victory over the Utah Jazz in Game 5 of this Western Conference first-round series Wednesday at Toyota Center.

Houston claimed the series 4-1 by holding the Jazz scoreless following a Ricky Rubio 12-footer with 1:32 left. 

Rubio pulled Utah to within 94-93 with his pull-up jumper in the lane, but the Rockets responded with an Eric Gordon steal and a Harden block with the game in the balance.

Harden shot just 10 of 26 but added six rebounds, six assists, four blocks and three steals. 

Rockets forward P.J. Tucker paced the defensive effort with nine defensive boards and four blocks, and his two free throws with 54.8 seconds left proved redemptive after he missed two from the line on the previous possession. Tucker finished with eight points.

Clint Capela added 16 points and 10 boards for Houston while Chris Paul and Gordon scored 15 apiece, with Paul adding eight rebounds and five assists. 

The Jazz claimed a plus-1 advantage on the boards and Houston produced a 13-8 edge in second-chance points.

Rubio paired 17 points with 11 assists to co-author the attack for Utah, which received 18 points off the bench from Royce O’Neale. Jae Crowder chipped in a double-double (15 points, 10 rebounds) as well.

However, guard Donovan Mitchell labored again for the Jazz, shooting just 4 of 22 while missing all nine of his 3-pointers en route to 12 points. Utah shot 37.2 percent overall.

Utah withstood the Rockets’ initial punch, pulling even at 12-12 on a Mitchell layup after Houston scored the opening eight points. By the close of the first quarter, the Rockets had cooled off completely, shooting just 36.8 percent in the period while committing seven turnovers.

For a brief spell, the Jazz found some perimeter shooting, with Joe Ingles drilling 3 of 7 3-points while Utah wrestled away the lead. Harden, meanwhile, continued his struggles, even missing an open baseline dunk en route to a 1-for-11 start from the floor. 

But with the Rockets trailing 39-35, Harden found a spark, making his final three shots of the half to carry Houston to a 46-42 lead at the break. The Rockets extended that run to 21-3 and led 56-44 when Tucker sank a 3 at the 9:56 mark of the third. 

But the Jazz were undaunted and took a 77-75 lead early in the fourth.

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