NBA: Harden's Rockets cruise past Jazz in Game 1 of play-offs, while Bucks hammer Pistons

(REUTERS) – James Harden and Clint Capela posted double-doubles, and the Houston Rockets rolled to a 122-90 victory in Game 1 of their NBA Western Conference first-round series over the visiting Utah Jazz on Sunday (April 14).

Harden paired 29 points with 10 assists and finished two rebounds shy of a triple-double to fuel the Rockets to a 1-0 series lead. Game 2 is scheduled for Wednesday, also at Toyota Centre.

Capela added 16 points and 12 rebounds while grappling with Jazz centre Rudy Gobert (22 points, 12 rebounds). Houston made headway by holding their own on the glass and defending with vigour, limiting Utah guard Donovan Mitchell to 19 points on 7-of-18 shooting and the Jazz to 39 per cent shooting. Utah finished just 7-for-27 on three-pointers and committed 19 turnovers.

The Rockets seized control midway through the first quarter, and while Utah rallied to within five points in the third, Houston found answers in the form of Chris Paul (14 points, seven assists) and Danuel House Jr, who added 11 points off the bench. Reserve Kenneth Faried also scored 11.

Perhaps the most decisive stretch for the Rockets came with 6:50 remaining in the third quarter. Harden picked up his fourth foul on the back end of an extended run by the Jazz that resulted in Utah slicing a 15-point deficit to 66-61 on a Mitchell pull-up jumper with 7:57 left in the period.

Harden remained in the game and proved instrumental in Houston regaining control. His three-point play at the 4:54 mark of the period extended the lead to 74-61 and, when Harden drilled a step-back three-pointer with 3:09 left in the third, the Rockets reclaimed their 15-point lead.

When Paul replaced Harden at the 1:55 mark, the Rockets led by 12 and maintained control down the stretch. With 9:08 remaining, Paul assisted on a House trey, and Houston led 95-75.

Ricky Rubio, who missed the West semi-final series between these teams last season owing to injury, added 15 points and six assists for the Jazz. Eric Gordon chipped in 17 points for Houston, which shot 50.5 per cent and posted a 42-41 advantage on the glass.

In another game, Giannis Antetokounmpo racked up 24 points, 17 rebounds and four assists in only 23 minutes as the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks overwhelmed the visiting Detroit Pistons 121-86 in their Eastern Conference play-offs opener.

George Hill had 16 points off the bench for the Bucks, who led by 27 at half-time.

Pistons centre Andre Drummond was ejected with 4:07 remaining in the third quarter for shoving Antetokounmpo to the floor. The two-handed push occurred after the Greek grabbed an offensive rebound. Drummond finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds.

Meanwhile, Damian Lillard scored 30 points as the Portland Trail Blazers held off the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder to win 104-99.

C.J. McCollum added 24 points, and Enes Kanter contributed 20 points and 18 rebounds for the Trail Blazers, who led by as many as 19 points in the first half.

Paul George collected 26 points and 10 rebounds, and Russell Westbrook compiled 24 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists for the Thunder, who made only five of 33 three-point attempts in the game.

Earlier, the Boston Celtics held the visiting Indiana Pacers without a field goal for the first eight and a half minutes of the second half on Sunday afternoon, rallying from a half-time deficit for an 84-74 victory in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference first-round play-off series.

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