NBA PLAYOFFS

Fred Faour: 5 quick thoughts on the Rockets' series-clinching win over the Jazz

Chris Paul and the Rockets are moving on. Tim Warner/Getty Images

Finally, the preliminaries are over. The series we have been waiting for all year is finally upon us. The Rockets took care of business at Toyota Center on Tuesday, beating Utah 112-102 to close out the series four games to one and move on to the Western Conference Finals, where a date with Golden State awaits. There will be ample time to break down that series, but here are five quick thoughts on the Rockets series-clinching win over the Jazz:

1) The late quick strike: The Rockets had one of their patented quick hit runs to end the first half and turned a tight game into some breathing room with a 9-2 burst. The game was 45-44 Rockets with under a minute left, but Chris Paul nailed a pair of 3s, Rudy Gobert slowed things with a dunk and then P.J. Tucker hit a 3 to end the half. The Rockets made only five 3s the entire half -- three coming in the last minute. It was vintage Rockets and set the tone for the second half. Paul led the half with 15 points on 5 of 9 shooting and added six assists. James Harden struggled with nine points on 3 of 9 shooting and three ugly turnovers. But even with that, the last minute put the Rockets in a good position, a place they needed to be considering how bad they were in the third quarter.

2) Emerging star: Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell had a forgettable first half with just two points. But he exploded for 22 in the third quarter, giving the Jazz a 78-75 lead. Unfortunately, that would be all he would contribute, limping off the court in the fourth quarter with his 24 points.

3) Playoff Paul? Not so much. Paul was outstanding throughout the game. It was critical for the Rockets, considering how fellow star Harden was out of sync. Paul had a career playoff high with 41 points and was a monster down the stretch. He had said after the Game 4 win he had "been up 3-1 before." He made sure there would be no chance of a repeat of that series, where his Clippers lost to the Rockets. Paul carried the Rockets to their second Western Conference Final in four years, and the first of Paul's career. He threw in 10 assists, six rebounds, did not turn the ball over and hit 8 of 10 3s. Harden struggled with 7-of-22 shooting, just 18 points and 1 of 7 on 3s, so Paul's output was critical.

4) Capping it off: Clint Capela did not do much offensively, and he managed only five rebounds. But he also had five blocks and was active leading the Houston defense, a big reason for the win.

5) Surprise, surprise: With Harden and Eric Gordon (5 points, 2 of 8) struggling, the Rockets got timely baskets from P.J. Tucker (19 points, 5 of 7 on 3-pointers) and Gerald Green (8 points in 13 minutes). Those two helped overcome the other players' struggles.

Obviously, the Warriors series is what everyone will point to, but let's not lose sight of the fact that the Rockets are in the Western Conference Finals again and have had an outstanding year. Being the top seed guarantees you nothing -- just ask Toronto. It has been a hell of a run, and the Rockets have earned this opportunity to take on the defending champs with a spot in the Finals on the line. Yes, they will have to play much better, but there is no reason to think they won't.

 

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Another tough loss for Houston. Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images.

The Houston Texans lost again as their road game ineptitude continues. Former Texans stars DeAndre Hopkins and J.J. Watt helped the Cardinals to the 31-5 victory.

1. The lack of talent is getting exposed earlier and earlier each week. The Texans have seen games slip away faster and faster from them each week. The team is overmatched almost everywhere.

2. Penalties remain a problem for the Texans. It seems like clockwork the team gets an illegal motion or illegal formation each week. Jordan Akins torpedoed a drive with a chop block. Max Scharping erased a positive play with a hold.

3. Davis Mills had some solid moments, but again, this team isn't good. It is hard to assess Mills with this team. He's making quicker decisions but he doesn't have the time or the players to make big plays.

4. The offensive line stinks. The interior of the line is still a mess and with Laremy Tunsil down the edges find themselves shaky as well. The running backs don't block well. The blocking tight ends don't block well. It is bad football in what was supposed to be a much-improved unit.

5. Desmond King was the best returner in the preseason. The team elected to give Andre Roberts an opportunity for a few games, but with his departure, the duties went to King. King is the most successful returner the Texans have had in a long while. Yes, it is that clear after just one game.

6. Max Scharping was benched in favor of Justin McCray. McCray produced similar levels of success. Scharping was benched last year for a journey-man veteran as well. The former second-round pick isn't getting it done.

7. Speaking of former second-round picks, Lonnie Johnson had an interception. That was the highlight of his day. Otherwise, Johnson frequently has me asking "what is Lonnie Johnson doing?" The former second-round pick at cornerback has been less than impressive at safety. Johnson seems to frequently be out of position or making the wrong choice in coverage.

8. DeAndre Hopkins had a solid day against the team that traded him away. Hopkins hauled in seven catches for 53 yards and a touchdown. After he scored, Hopkins looked to bring his hands together and mimic a prayer motion. I don't anticipate this was a nod to Arian Foster but perhaps could this have been about Jack Easterby?

9. The Texans had some sacks, but little of that action came when the game was close. Jonathan Greenard added two sacks to his total. The success Greenard is having is frustrating when you consider he couldn't get on the field last season. Charles Omenihu returned to action and had some pressures for the defense.

10. During the game reports surfaced that the Panthers might be interested in trading for Deshaun Watson. It was also reported by the Houston Chronicle Watson had vetoed a trade to Philadelphia, so the Eagles will not be involved in the Watson sweepstakes. The Panthers can only trade two first-round picks. The Miami Dolphins have three first-round picks they can trade for Deshaun Watson.

11. The Texans decided on a "culture" head coach in David Culley. His team has looked lifeless on the road. While the Texans took their beating, the Lions gave it their all against a good Rams team. Detroit is winless, but they play harder and better than the Texans. It grows clearer each week "culture" is meaningless if the team can't win.

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