Rockets eliminate Jazz, 100-93

3-pointers from Rockets game 5 versus Utah Jazz

Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images

The Rockets hosted the Utah Jazz in game 5 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals Wednesday night at the Toyota Center in downtown Houston. Looking to stave off elimination, Utah came strong out of the gate with their patented brand of tough defense. The game would come down to the wire late, but it was a few clutch defensive plays from Chris Paul and James Harden late in the fourth quarter that would ultimately eliminate the Jazz en route to a Western Conference Semifinals berth.

Doing what the Jazz do best

The Jazz made a name for themselves as one of the premiere defensive teams in league throughout the 2019 season. In game four they proved just that, and harassed the Rockets all the way to a 107-91 victory. Determined to avoid a repeat, the Rockets took a page out of their opponent's playbook and clamped down on the defensive end. Houston stifled the Jazz at the arc, as Utah went 9-38 from 3-point range. Both teams remained equal from the turnover perspective, but it was late in the game when the Rockets made key steals to ice the game and finish 8 to 12 in the category overall--when it mattered.

Healthy enough down low

Game four saw one of the worst statistical outputs of Clint Capela's 2019 campaign. It was only after Capela's 4 point, 7 rebound performance that we learned that the Rockets starting center was simultaneously battling two separate upper respiratory infections. Having been given time to rest, Capela emerged in game five as a true difference maker. The big man finished Wednesday night with a more noticeable stat line of 16 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 blocks.

Big names, big games

Both Chris Paul and James Harden had terrific games in game four, yet it wasn't enough to carry a team that provided practically any support. Wednesday night was a different story, and with a healthy Capela and a bench able to contribute, Harden and Paul each exploded to put the Jazz away for good. Harden and Paul combined for 41 points, 11 assists, 14 rebounds, 6 steals, and 4 blocks. You can't ask too much more from your stars.

Rockets player of the game

James Harden: 26 points, 6 assists, 6 rebounds, 3 steals, 4 blocks

Jazz player of the game

Ricky Rubio: 17 points, 11 assists, 2 rebounds, 3 steals

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The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

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