Important victory

The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets defeat Jazz in Utah 120-110

It's impossible to overstate the importance of this game for the Rockets. Already playing the Jazz twice this season and coming out with one victory, this game was for all the marbles - in other words, the tiebreaker. Also, if Houston won, they'd be cashing in that tiebreaker right away and leapfrogging Utah for the fourth seed in the Western Conference (for now). Fortunately for Houston, things broke their way in the second half of this game, and currently stand two games out of the second seed.

For the second straight game, the Rockets were completely hot from three-point range, making 20 of their 48 attempts as a team tonight (42%). However, to start the game, Houston was not able to mount a huge lead due to their porous point-of-attack defense. The Jazz were just blowing by Houston's first line of defense seemingly every possession, creating a layup line because Houston no longer has a second line of defense.

After scoring 30 points against the Rockets in early February, Jordan Clarkson had 20 points on 9 of 13 shooting in the first half. The Rockets were giving up point-blank drives to the rim and the Jazz were taking advantage of it.

The third quarter is where Houston really started to turn things around defensively, only allowing 19 points on 6 of 19 shooting from the field (31.6%). They continued to make their shots, Harden and Westbrook controlled the tempo of the game (combined 72 points on 27 of 49 shooting from the field), and took home the win. Houston only really struggled with their fourth quarter offense, but were good enough defensively to where it didn't matter.

Star of the game: James Harden's looked really good on both ends since returning from the All-Star break. He's been sharp on the defensive end, he's making shots, and he's getting to the free throw line with regularity. Tonight, Harden tallied 38 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 block on 68.0% true shooting. Harden also ended the game a team-high +24 after being a team-high +32 on Thursday. He's coming back alive just when the Rockets needed him.

Honorable mention: The Jazz again had Rudy Gobert guard Russell Westbrook, but this time, they stayed with it for the full duration of the game. Westbrook responded by putting up 34 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1 steal on 14 of 26 shooting from the field. Westbrook also made 2 out of the 4 three-pointers he attempted tonight.

Key moment: If you wanted to show people what the idealized version of this season's Houston Rockets would look like, it would be the third quarter of this game. After a first half of weak point-of-attack defense, the Rockets defended about as well they ever had in the micro-ball era (19 points allowed). They also moved the ball and shot well from beyond the arc (6 of 14 - 42.9%). They looked like a tier one title contender that should put fear in the hearts of Western Conference opponents.

Up next: The Rockets return to Houston on Monday at 7:00 p.m. to take on the New York Knicks.

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Houston goes up 1-0 in the series

Altuve, Correa help lift Astros to ALCS Game 1 win over Red Sox

Carlos Correa's go-ahead homer in the seventh inning of ALCS Game 1 helped lift the Astros to a 1-0 series lead. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Despite one rough loss to the White Sox in the ALDS, the Astros looked like the dominant team they are capable of being, taking that series 3-1 to advance and taking ownership of home-field advantage in the ALCS against the Red Sox, who upset the Rays. In Game 1, despite trailing for the middle portions of the game, Houston would get more highlight moments from the faces of the franchise to start the series with a win.

Final Score: Astros 5, Red Sox 4

ALCS Series (Best of Seven): Houston leads 1-0

Winning Pitcher: Ryne Stanek

Losing Pitcher: Hansel Robles

Houston strikes first, but Boston sends Valdez to an early exit

Both starting pitchers worked in and out of trouble in the early goings of ALCS Game 1, starting with Framber Valdez in the top of the first. After erasing a leadoff single by inducing a double play, he went on to load the bases on a single and two walks but would strand all three runners to keep Boston off the board. The Astros jumped in front in the bottom half, with Jose Altuve working a leadoff walk, moving to second on a one-out single by Alex Bregman, advancing to third on a wild pitch, then ultimately scoring on a sac fly by Yordan Alvarez to put Houston ahead 1-0 after one frame.

They had a chance to extend their lead in the bottom of the second, taking advantage of a shaky inning by Chris Sale, who loaded the bases with one out as Houston would get two singles and a hit-by-pitch. That flipped the order over to the top, but a great diving catch by former Astro Kiké Hernández would end the inning. Hernández led off the top of the third against Valdez, and he would tie things up with a solo homer.

Things went downhill from there for Valdez and the Astros, as a one-out walk followed by a single gave the Red Sox the go-ahead run in scoring position. On a groundball that likely should have been a double play to end the inning, it would get through Altuve's legs, scoring a run and keeping the inning alive for Boston. They took advantage, getting an RBI double to extend their new lead to 3-1. Valdez would get one more out before Dusty Baker would give him the early hook, bringing in Yimi Garcia, who finished the frame.

A battle of the bullpens, Altuve ties it up

Like Valdez, Sale would also not make it through three innings, getting two outs while putting two on base before Boston would start their bullpen's night as well. Both sets of relievers settled the game down, with the Red Sox stranding two of Houston's runners in the third as well as the fifth, maintaining their two-run lead. After Garcia finished the third, Cristian Javier entered to eat up a couple of innings, and he would do just that by getting through two frames with just one hit, four strikeouts, and no runs.

Next, Phil Maton took over in the top of the sixth and erased a leadoff walk to keep things in striking distance for the home team. In the bottom of the sixth, Houston put another runner on base, getting a one-out single by Chas McCormick. Two batters later, with two outs, Jose Altuve provided yet another career postseason highlight, tying the game 3-3 with a two-run home to re-energize the Minute Maid Park crowd.

Astros take ALCS Game 1

Now a brand new ballgame in the top of the seventh, Brooks Raley came in to face three batters, getting two strikeouts while allowing a single before Dusty Baker would move on to Ryne Stanek, who would get the third out. With two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Carlos Correa continued his march to a monster off-season contract, putting Houston back on top with a solo homer, making it 4-3.

Houston kept the script after Stanek with the new lead in hand, going to Kendall Graveman as the setup man in the top of the eighth. Despite a two-out single, he would get out of the inning with the lead intact, putting Houston three outs away from the victory. After a walk, single, and hit by pitch to start the bottom of the eighth with the bases loaded, Altuve would drive in his third run of the game, getting a sac fly to extend the lead to two runs at 5-3.

That insurance run proved pivotal, as closer Ryan Pressly was met with a leadoff solo home run by Hernandez, his second of the night for Boston, to make it 5-4. Pressly refocused and was able to get the next three batters in order, though, wrapping up the win to start Houston off with a 1-0 series lead and putting them three wins away from advancing to the World Series.

Up Next: The two teams will have a moderately quick turnaround, with ALCS Game 2 scheduled to start at 3:20 PM Central on Saturday ahead of NLCS Game 1 between the Dodgers and Braves getting the night slot. The pitching matchup is expected to be Nathan Eovaldi for Boston, who is 1-0 with a 2.61 ERA in his two starts this postseason, going opposite Luis Garcia, who had a rough outing in the ALDS for Houston, giving up five runs without completing three innings in Chicago.

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