The Rockets sprinted out to an early lead Sunday afternoon and never looked back, defeating the Jazz in Game 1 by a final score of 110-96.
Houston's dynamic duo of James Harden and Chris Paul combined for 58 points and 13 assists, and the Rockets shot 53.1 percent from 3-point range as a team in a dominant win. The Jazz will need to figure out how to defend against the deep ball, or this could be a short series.
Here are three takeaways from Game 1 between the Rockets and Jazz...
James Harden gets back to MVP form
The Rockets eliminated the Timberwolves in five games, but Harden didn't look much like himself in the first round. He saw significant drops in his shooting percentage (44.9 percent in the regular season to 41.1 vs. Minnesota) as well as his free throw attempts (10.1 per game to 7.6).
Well, "The Beard" rediscovered his touch in Game 1 against the Jazz. He scored a game-high 41 points, going 7-of-12 from beyond the 3-point line. He took advantage of mismatches and had his stepback jumper working all over the floor.
28 for Harden! #Rockets | #NBAPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/SdnfUpZPyA- NBA (@NBA) April 29, 2018
Harden finished with a 66.5 true shooting percentage on a 41.6 usage percentage, and the Rockets had a 120.0 offensive rating while he was on the floor. If Harden is far and away the best player in this matchup, Houston shouldn't have any trouble reaching the Western Conference finals.
Quick turnaround catches up with Jazz
Utah defeated Oklahoma City at home less than 36 hours before it had to travel to Houston for Game 1. That didn't leave a lot of rest time for a Jazz team which is heavily reliant on stars like Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert.
The Rockets grabbed control in the first 12 minutes, securing a 34-21 lead by the end of the first quarter. Harden said that was a point of emphasis for Houston.
"We had energy from the beginning of the game," Harden told ESPN's Lisa Salters. "We knew what they just went through, how tough that last series was. We had a couple days of rest. We wanted to come out here and pick the pace up."
CP3 & The Beard combine for 34 in the 1st half of Game 1!#Rockets | #NBAPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/rOYwOF6xBg- NBA (@NBA) April 29, 2018
Mitchell finished with 21 points, but he needed 22 shots to reach that total. Gobert didn't have his usual defensive impact, failing to register a blocked shot. Jae Crowder (21 points, 8-of-13 shooting) was a bright spot off the bench, but the Jazz couldn't find enough scoring to keep up with this offensive juggernaut.
Fortunately for Utah, Game 2 won't be played until Wednesday night. That recovery time will be key.
No Ricky Rubio? Big problem
Rubio was huge in the Jazz's first-round series against the Thunder, controlling the tempo of the game and crawling inside Russell Westbrook's head to help Utah advance. However, he suffered a left hamstring injury in the first quarter of Friday night's Game 6, and now the Jazz could be without their starting point guard for 10 days, according to a report from ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.
Quin Snyder decided to start Royce O'Neale in Rubio's place, and while O'Neale is a solid option off the bench, he lacks the experience of Rubio and can't operate the same way as a floor general. That's a lot of pressure for a rookie who hasn't been in this situation before.
The Jazz already shattered expectations by making it this far, and Mitchell and Gobert have been phenomenal throughout the season. But it's going to be difficult for them to challenge the Rockets without one of their key players available.