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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Houston now focused on postseason

Altuve and Correa homer, Astros drop final regular-season game

Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

With no playoff impact at stake if the Astros won or lost the game, Houston took Sunday's final regular-season game as a chance to get their lineup a few more at-bats before shifting focus to Tuesday's first game of the post-season. Here is a quick recap of the game against the Rangers:

Final Score: Rangers 8, Astros 4.

Record: 29-31, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Wes Benjamin (2-1, 4.84 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Chase De Jong (0-1, 14.73 ERA).

Houston's main bats get a final tune-up

Knowing they'd only have a couple of at-bats to work with, some of Houston's big bats took advantage, starting with Jose Altuve. He crushed a pitch in the top of the first, a solo homer to put the Astros in front 1-0. After the Rangers tied the game 1-1 in the bottom of the second, Altuve started the third with a walk before moving to third base on a Michael Brantley single, which improved Brantley's season average to .300.

Aledmys Diaz would pick up the RBI on a groundout to score Altuve, putting Houston back in front 2-1. In Correa's last at-bat in the top of the fourth, he extended the lead to 3-1 with a solo home run of his own.

Rangers hand Astros a loss to end the regular season

After getting the early run against Chase De Jong, the Rangers would put together a big inning against him in the fourth. After two one-out singles, Rougned Odor would give Texas their first lead of the day on a three-run homer to make it 4-3.

De Jong would continue to struggle in the inning, getting just one more out while loading the bases, prompting a move to the bullpen to bring in Nivaldo Rodriguez to try and eat up more innings. The Rangers greeted him with a two-RBI single to extend their lead to 6-3 before ending the fourth. Odor would hit his second home run of the game in the bottom of the fifth, a solo shot to make it a four-run lead at 7-3.

Rodriguez allowed another run in the bottom of the seventh, making it 8-3. Diaz, who drove in a run earlier, would account for another RBI in the top of the eighth, getting Houston's third solo homer of the day. That would make it an 8-4 game, which would go final as the Rangers would win the regular season's last game.

Up Next: Houston's first game of the playoffs will be on Tuesday, with the start time and opponent TBD while the rest of today's games wrap up, and the schedule is announced. Regardless, the Astros are expected to begin that best-of-three series with Zack Greinke (3-3, 4.03 ERA).

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