Houston Rockets vs. Utah Jazz: Breaking down Game 1

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - APRIL 25: Quin Snyder of the Utah Jazz gives instructions to Ricky Rubio
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - APRIL 25: Quin Snyder of the Utah Jazz gives instructions to Ricky Rubio /

The Houston Rockets rode their MVP to take a 1-0 series lead over the Utah Jazz in the second round of the NBA Playoffs. Let’s break it down

The Houston Rockets made light work of the Utah Jazz in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals, winning the contest with ease, 110-96.

The Jazz miss Ricky Rubio, and will have to scramble to replace his production, on both ends of the floor.

Rubio is listed as day-to-day with a left hamstring injury suffered in the Jazz’s Game 6 series-clinching win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Judging from Game 1 of the Jazz’s second round matchup with the Rockets, replacing his impact will be difficult.

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The Jazz started Royce O’Neal in place of Rubio in Game 1, and Joe Ingles and Donovan Mitchell handled the bulk of the playmaking duties. However, Game 1 showed that neither are best-suited as the team’s primary ballhandlers.

Mitchell is phenomenal. He averaged 28.5 points per game against the Thunder in the first round and is leading his team in his first playoff appearance the way few rookies ever have. But, he is best as an off-ball threat who creates his own offense.

Ingles is a smart passer with a very solid all-around game, but like Mitchell, is better off away from the ball. He’s a knock-down three-point shooter who shot 46.7-percent from deep in the first round (on 45 attempts) and will miss having Rubio around to set him up.

Rubio stepped his game up in the first round, averaging 14 points, 7.3 rebounds and seven assists in the six games he appeared in. That production will be hard to make-up.

Dante Exum will be called on to step up in Rubio’s absence, but may be too inexperienced to plug a significant amount of Rubio’s missed minutes. Exum averaged under 10 minutes a game in the first round and saw his playing time bump up to just over 15 minutes in Game 1 against the Rockets.

Exum brings a lot of energy when he plays – especially on the defensive end – which can be a good thing, but not always.

While Exum had several possessions where he used his size and speed to competently defend James Harden, he also had several spazzy moments where he gambled on a loose ball, or over shot his close-out on the perimeter.

Harden and Chris Paul put on a clinic in the first half, and as the Jazz rallied to cut the Rockets’ once 27-point lead to 11, Harden came back in and immediately regained control of the game.

Harden finished the game with a seemingly-effortless 41 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists.

The Jazz are one of the best defensive teams in the NBA – its defensive rating of 101.6 was second-highest in the league this season, according to stats.nba.com – and is centered around the likely Defensive Player of the Year, Rudy Gobert.

However, Harden is the likely MVP, and the way he and Paul dissected the Jazz’s defense, it was hard to tell Gobert was even on the court.

When the Rockets’ offense is clicking, it’s arguably the best in the league. Strong perimeter defense is essential to slowing down Harden and Paul.

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Without Rubio, the Jazz have one less plus-defender to throw out on the floor. In game 1, it showed.

The Houston Rockets are favored in this series, whether or not the Jazz have Rubio playing. There is a chance he returns this series, but the way game 1 unfolded, there may be a better chance that the Rockets close-out this series before he can make it back.