• Brian L. Barefield

Taking Care of Business:Rockets hold off a feisty Jazz team to advance to the Western Conference Sem

There is one thing you need to know about people from Houston and surrounding areas. They are a proud group of individuals that wear their heart and emotions on their sleeves, and the one thing you can never do is count them out. The Houston Rockets must have felt the heart and souls of all their fans in Game 5 of the Western Conference playoffs against the Utah Jazz. Houston defeated Utah for the second straight year by a score of 100 – 93 in front of an energetic home crowd to advance to the Conference Semifinals for the fourth time over the last five seasons.

Houston improved to 3-0 at home this postseason and 9-0 in the First Round at Toyota Center under head coach Mike D’Antoni. He was excited to get past a tough Jazz to who early on looked as if they were trying to get back to Vivint Smart Home Arena for a Game 6.

“You know that’s what the playoffs are all about,” D’Antoni reiterated at his post-game press conference. “It’s not playing pretty because everybody knows everybody’s stuff. You got to make big plays.”

Rockets fans know that there is no bigger playmaker in the game right now than their very own James Harden. The potential back-to-back NBA MVP had a great night finishing with a game high 26 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals, and a playoff career-high 4 blocked shots.

“We didn’t make as many shots as we wanted to offensively, but these last few games we hung our hat on defense. And that’s what’s going to get us to our goal,” said Harden.

Although things did start out smooth for Harden who was 1-for-11 to start the game, he ended the half by hitting his last three shots to give the Rockets a four-point advantage going into the locker room for halftime.

The Rockets used a smothering defense led by Eric Gordon to hold Jazz second-year superstar Donovan Mitchell to 4-for-22 shooting that included going 0-for-9 from beyond the arc. Mitchell struggled badly from three-point range by shooting 25% (11-43) in a five-game span. As a whole, the Jazz were held to under 30% for the series and only shot 23% in game 5.

“Coach told me before the game, whenever he’s in, (Mitchell) I’m going to be in,” Eric Gordon said after the game. “Early on in the series, they just played their game. They tried to screen and take me off of him, but coach is like ‘you’re going to stay with him the game, whenever he’s in, you go in’.”

The defensive bug must have been contagious because Houston had 12 steals to go along with 12 blocks on a night where the All-Time blocks leader, Hakeem Olajuwon was in attendance. The last time the Rockets had 10-plus steals and 10-plus blocks in a playoff game was in Game 5 of the 1994 Western Conference Finals at home versus Utah.

Rockets Forward Danuel House Jr. who hit some big shots off the bench in his first NBA playoff experience summed up the Rockets attitude in this series after the game in three sentences.

“It’s just the Houstonian in me. The never give up. Growing up we never gave in and when people said we couldn’t do it, we always found a way to do it,” House told a pool of reporters.

Houston will take on the winner of the Golden State versus L.A. Clippers series that has the Warriors currently leading 3-2.

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