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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The Astros will look to bounce back after a tough week. Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images.

After a 6-3 record to start the season, the Houston Astros had a tumultuous week to say the least. They were swept by the Tigers, lost 2 of 3 games to the Seattle Mariners and placed five players on the COVID injured list.

The Tigers' new manager AJ Hinch returned to Minute Maid Park for the first time since the Astros let him go after the cheating scandal in early 2020.

The Tigers swept the Astros and outscored them 20-8 over their three matchups.

Before the 3rd game of the series, the Astros found out they would be without five players on their active roster. Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, Martin Maldonado and Robel Garcia were all placed on the COVID-19 injury reserved list.

"It's hard on the team but you have to carry on. The show must go on," manager Dusty Baker said. "And it went on today with some younger players we have here."

Garrett Stubbs, Taylor Jones and Abraham Toro were called up as well as Alex De Goti and Ronnie Dawson who made their major league debuts last week.

The Tigers were able to score runs early on Zack Greinke, Lance McCullers and Jake Odorizzi (who made his Astros debut) and none of these starters lasted more than five innings in the outings.

Yuli Gurriel was the one Astros bright spot against the Tigers as he had 7 hits and drove in 2 runs. He is still continuing to hit the ball consistently as he finished the series with a .429 batting average.

After a 1-5 home stand the Astros looked to bounce back on the road against the division leading Seattle Mariners (you read that correctly).

Friday night proved to be the Astros' best offensive performance since their home opener on April 8th against the A's.

They scored five runs on Yusei Kikuchi through 7 innings behind good hitting from Aledmys Diaz, Chas McCormick and De Goti who drove in two runs on his first major league hit.

The Astros had a 5-2 lead at this point, but Seattle was able to score 4 unanswered to win the game.

Bryan Abreu, Blake Taylor and Ryne Stanek were credited with those four runs.

Ryan Pressly tried to clean up the bottom of the 9th inning after Stanek put the first two batters on base. His effort was unsuccessfully as Ty France hit a game-ending single that scored J.P. Crawford from second to secure a Mariners victory.

Saturday was the best game of the week for the Astros as they finally broke their six-game losing streak.

After failing to pitch more than five innings on Monday against the Tigers, Zack Greinke threw eight shutout innings with 91 pitches.

He struck out six batters and gave up only 4 hits.

"That's what aces do," Astros manager Dusty Baker said. "Guys like (Greinke) ... they stop the bleeding and we're about bled out."

Greinke finished the game with 2,705 career strikeouts. He is now third amongst active players in strikeouts behind Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander.

Ryan Pressly got some redemption too as he threw a perfect 9th inning giving him his first save of the year.

The Astros won this game 1-0 as Taylor Jones drove in the game's only run with an RBI single.

Sunday's game ended the Astros week with a whimper, as the Mariners bested Houston 7-2.

Jake Odorizzi got off to a good start, but he gave up three hits and was pulled after Mitch Haniger's fifth-inning triple made it a 3-2 lead over the Astros.

Odorizzi is now (0-2) with a 10.57 ERA after two starts with the Astros.

Houston's offensive woes continued Sunday, as Aledmys Díaz had their only hit, an RBI double in the second inning that fell in when outfielder José Marmolejos lost the ball in the sun.

"It's tough to take when you only got one hit and the one hit we got was lost in the sun," Baker said.

UP NEXT: The Astros (7-8) will finish their road trip with a two game series against the Rockies who have the worst record in the league (4-12) before starting an eight-game homestead.

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