HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden and the Houston Rockets didn’t talk about their defeat at home by the Utah Jazz in the second game of their second-round playoff series last season before Game 2 of their first-round matchup on Wednesday night.
The Beard and his teammates were certainly thinking about it though.
Harden put on an MVP performance with 32 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists to lead the Rockets to a second straight rout of the Utah Jazz, 118-98, for a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
The Rockets also won Game 1 of last year’s series easily before losing that second game in Houston. They ended up winning the series in five games, but talked about the importance of maintaining focus after their 32-point win in Game 1 this season to avoid another such letdown.
It was clear early that they wouldn’t have that problem this time around.
“It was important for us to come out aggressive,” Harden said. “I think it was our defensive effort.”
Harden, who recorded his third career playoff triple-double, had 25 points by halftime in a game the Jazz were all but out of after the first two quarters.
Game 3 is Saturday night in Utah.
Harden controlled the game from the start as the Rockets raced out to a 39-19 lead after a first quarter where he scored just two points fewer than the Jazz.
“What he did in that first quarter was ridiculous,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “Just dicing everybody up. When he gets it rolling nobody’s better.”
Houston made 6 of 13 3-pointers in the first and Utah hit just one of its 14 tries. The Rockets didn’t let up in the second quarter and had pushed their advantage to 70-44 at halftime.
Ricky Rubio was the man tasked with guarding him most of the night.
“He’s hard but I’m not going to quit,” he said. “He’s one of the best scorers of all time and we’re going to keep trying to find ways to make his scoring hard.”
The Jazz got 17 points each from Rubio and Royce O’Neale. Second-year star Donovan Mitchell vowed to do more after scoring 19 points in Game 1, finishing with five turnovers and no assists. He did have more assists, dishing out six, but managed just 11 points on 5-of-19 shooting and had four turnovers as the Jazz head home needing to turn things around quickly to avoid a series that looks to be headed for a sweep.