James Harden continues his domination of the Utah Jazz

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HOUSTON — The Utah Jazz, a relentless crew that fought its method from 9 video games below .500 in late January all the best way to the Western Convention semifinals, had put itself in place to maybe pull off one other superb rally.

The Houston Rockets’ lead, which swelled to as giant as 27 factors within the first half of Sunday’s Sport 1, had been sliced to 11 early within the fourth quarter. Jazz rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell had heated up after a gradual begin, a risk to go on the type of scoring flurry that despatched the Oklahoma Metropolis Thunder on an early trip.

“I used to be sweating,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni admitted.

However D’Antoni had a easy resolution: He summoned James Harden off the bench a couple of minutes sooner than he usually re-enters the sport within the fourth quarter. Harden responded as a soon-to-be MVP ought to. After he snuffed a Jazz quick break with a steal, Harden scored eight factors over a span of two:09.

That was a very powerful stretch of Harden’s masterpiece efficiency within the top-seeded Rockets’ series-opening 110-96 victory. He had 41 factors, eight rebounds and seven assists, seizing management of the sport from Houston’s opening possession and stopping the Jazz from mounting a critical comeback bid down the stretch.

The Jazz, that includes possible Defensive Participant of the Yr Rudy Gobert as a rim-protecting anchor, are as dominant a defensive crew as exists within the modern-day NBA. Harden, nevertheless, has been the riddle Utah has been hopeless in making an attempt to reply.

Whether or not it was 3s, layups or free throws, James Harden had all of it getting in Sport 1 towards the Utah Jazz. Invoice Baptist/NBAE/Getty

Certain, the Rockets’ regular-season sweep of the Jazz occurred earlier than Utah’s astounding turnaround, however Harden’s numbers from these conferences nonetheless leap off the stat sheet. He averaged 34.Three factors with a real capturing share of .737 within the 4 video games, with the final being performed on Feb. 26. That features a 56-point, 13-assist present on Nov. 5, when Harden was 19-of-25 from the sphere, which might in all probability be the perfect particular person efficiency within the league this season if not for his 60-point triple-double towards the Orlando Magic.

How does Harden persistently make it look really easy towards such an elite protection?

“Simply because he is that good,” D’Antoni stated. “I do not assume I am telling you something you have not seen with your personal eyes. Simply what he does along with his step-backs — he is 7-for-12 on 3s — I do not understand how you guard that. I do not understand how you guard him going to the rim along with his energy [and] passing capacity. He is bought so some ways to beat you, after which the fouls [he draws] for those who attempt to take a few of them away. He is top-of-the-line.

“The protection is admittedly good. Their protection is tremendous, however James is James.”

The Jazz hoped that Russell Westbrook would launch long-range photographs off the dribble final sequence. These are photographs that Harden hunts, his step-back jumper growing into arguably the league’s most deadly weapon this season.

When Harden hits these at a excessive clip, even the perfect defenses are helpless towards him. There simply aren’t sound methods to forestall Harden from dancing, dancing, dancing, dancing, dancing with the dribble, darting backward at any number of angles and dropping rainbows.

Pull-up 6-13
Drive Three-9
Catch-and-Shoot 1-2
Hesitation 1-1
Putback 1-1
In keeping with Second Spectrum, Harden was Zero-2 on floaters.

Ship a double-team at Harden and he’ll make the proper move, placing your protection at a drawback. Crowd him and he’ll assault on the drive, a risk to complete, draw a foul, feed Clint Capela for a simple bucket (as he did 5 occasions Sunday) or discover an open shooter.

“For probably the most half, I will do what I do,” Harden stated. “Offensively I feel this crew, us, we’re completely different. We have seen so many alternative defenses all year long which have ready us for this second, whether or not it is Gobert being again on the rim or groups switching or no matter. We have seen just about all of it, all yr. We watch movie and we work out how we are able to create 3s and create alternatives for one another after which go on the market and play our butts off. Fairly easy.”

The Jazz clearly have loads of firm of their lack of ability to give you solutions to the Harden riddle. He led the league in Three-pointers and free throws made by extensive margins this season, profitable the scoring title a yr after profitable the assists title. He is paired with one other future Corridor of Fame playmaker in Chris Paul, and so they’re surrounded with snug-fitting complementary elements, however Harden is the man who will preserve the Jazz teaching employees up into the wee hours all sequence.

“He is a particular participant,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder stated. “It is onerous to offer credit score to all of the issues that he does. He impacts the sport in so some ways. You need to attempt to make it tougher for him in so many alternative sides. It requires your complete crew to protect him as a result of he is so able to find any weak spot in a given scenario. … He sees the whole lot. That is what makes him so distinctive, that he has the flexibility to finish all these performs.

“We have nonetheless bought to exit and compete and attempt to make it onerous on him and hopefully guard him, however I do not assume there’s any thriller to what a superb participant he’s.”

The thriller for the Jazz is the way to cease Harden.

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