ROUGH GOING

Harden injured as Rockets drop another early contest

James Harden had a good night before being injured. Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

The Rockets tipped off at Toyota Center Wednesday night with more questions than their roster had faced in the past two seasons combined. Fans watched to see how they would fare against a formidable Utah Jazz team minus their star point guard Chris Paul for a second straight game, and while a noticeably absent defensive presence resurged, the offense went cold. The Rockets would not only go on to lose the game, but possibly their MVP James Harden as well.

Houston shot out of the gate with an intensity they had otherwise lacked in their two losses so far both on offense and defense. Harden keyed the offense, going 4-4 with 10 points and 5 assists, while Carmelo Anthony was able to warm up early with 9 points. Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell started equally as strong with 11 points.

Foul trouble became an issue, with Anthony, Harden, and Carter-Williams each having picked up 2 fouls with 8:39 left in the second quarter. Eric Gordon struggled to contribute going 0-7 to start from beyond three. Harden's 4-4 start would fizzle into a 5-10 effort by halftime as the Rockets headed into the locker room down eight. Donovan Mitchell continued to build off his strong first quarter, finishing the half with 20 points.

The third quarter began with more of the same theme; strong defense (finally), but an inability to convert open looks on the opposite end. The Rockets would manage to land Jazz front court stalwarts Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors in foul trouble, but cold shooting sabotaged any attempt to close the gap with Utah. Anthony would pour in a few last minute shots to keep the Rockets within 9 at the end of the third, but with the team shooting 26% from beyond the arc, it should have been a much bigger lead. Mitchell continued his onslaught, as his points total ballooned to 28. Jazz led after three, 75-66.

The Rockets began heating up finally in the fourth and an Anthony block followed by an Anthony three on the other end would draw the Rockets to within 6. Harden checked in with around seven minutes left, immediately sparking a run both defensively and offensively to draw to within 5, however a subsequent shot clock violation would stall the run. A timeout was called and before play resumed, Harden was suddenly off to the locker room with the trainer in what would later be diagnosed as a hamstring injury. The loss of Harden would be too much to overcome and the Rockets would fall 100-89 to the Jazz. Harden would leave with 29 points, 5 rebounds and 7 assists, while Mitchell would finish with 38 points, 5 rebounds and 7 assists.

Takeaways

Carmelo Anthony showed promise within the Rockets’ offense, finishing with a season high 22 points after averaging less than 9 in his first three games. Allowing Melo to establish a rhythm like he was able to tonight in games will be pivotal to his ability to contribute moving forward.

Harden's hamstring is obviously something to keep an eye on. While speaking to the media he claimed it was “nothing serious,” and he was just “being cautious.” If true, then the Houston dodged a major bullet. Harden is one of the tougher players in the game and doesn't like sitting out, so if he sits on Friday, it's safe to assume that he's actually hurt.

Once again the Rockets were out-rebounded (47-35) and out-scored in the paint (48-36). Capela finished with 10 points, 12 rebounds, and 2 blocks in a hefty 38 minutes of work, but as it stands, he's really the only capable body down low at the moment. Until Houston gets healthy, expect teams to continue to pound the inside while Capela sits.

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Boston's two grand slams in the first two innings were too much for Houston to overcome in ALCS Game 2. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

After a win in ALCS Game 1 that had the prototypical fingerprints of this Astros team all over it, Houston returned to Minute Maid Park on Saturday, hoping to take a dominant 2-0 series lead if they could grab another victory. The Red Sox dashed those hopes very early, though, scoring eight runs across the first two innings to build the lead they would hold on to even the series.

Final Score: Boston 9, Astros 5

ALCS Series (Best of Seven): tied 1-1

Winning Pitcher: Nathan Eovaldi

Losing Pitcher: Luis Garcia

Houston met with disaster to start Game 2

You couldn't have drawn up a much better start for the Red Sox or a worse one for the Astros in Saturday's ALCS Game 2. Luis Garcia met early disaster in the top of the first inning, allowing a leadoff double, then got two outs while issuing two walks to load the bases. That brought up Boston's designated hitter, J.D. Martinez, to the plate, and he delivered a crushing blow to Houston, launching a grand slam to put the Red Sox up 4-0 before Houston could even get to the plate.

After a scoreless bottom of the inning by his offense, things got worse for Garcia in the top of the second, as after issuing a four-pitch walk to start the frame, he would become the center of a meeting at the mound with trainers, ultimately leaving the game with an injury. Houston opted to bring in Jake Odorizzi for the emergency call to the bullpen, but things did not start well for him either. He would put two of his own batters on base with two singles, then gave up the second grand slam in as many innings, this one to Rafael Devers to double Boston's lead to 8-0, doubling down on Houston's disastrous start to the game.

Odorizzi rebounded with a 1-2-3 third, but with one out in the top of the fourth allowed a solo homer to Kiké Hernández, his third homer of the series so far. He would still get the job done of eating up a few innings, finishing the fourth, and retiring Boston in order in the fifth, giving Houston just four more innings to cover with the rest of their relievers.

Astros get a few runs back

Over that span, Houston did trim the lead by three runs, getting an RBI double by Kyle Tucker and a two-RBI single by Yuli Gurriel in the bottom of the fourth, making it a six-run game at 9-3. Their next reliever was Blake Taylor in the top of the sixth, and he would keep the score where it stood by sitting down the three batters he faced that frame.

The Astros threatened again in the bottom of the sixth, getting two singles to put two aboard, but would come out empty, sending the game on to the seventh, where Taylor would remain on the mound. He faced three more batters, getting two out while allowing a single before Yimi Garcia would come in to get the third out.

Red Sox even the series as it shifts to Boston

Garcia returned in the top of the eighth, getting through that inning despite a walk and hit by pitch, stranding both runners. Boston's bullpen kept Houston from getting any closer in the bottom of the eighth, then Ryne Stanek came in for the Astros in the top of the ninth. Stanek allowed a leadoff double, but with a groundout and double play, held the score at 9-3. Yuli Gurriel and Jason Castro did their part to keep the Astros alive in the bottom of the ninth, each hitting solo homers to make it 9-5, but that's as close as they'd come, dropping Game 2 to tie the series at one game apiece.

Up Next: The ALCS now moves to Boston for the next three games after a day off on Sunday, with Game 3 on Monday at 7:08 PM Central. While the Astros have named Jose Urquidy as their starter, the Red Sox have not yet determined theirs.

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