Rockets win 118-110

Three pointers from Rockets versus Suns

Tim Warren/Getty Images

Houston travelled to Phoenix Monday night for their first matchup if the season against the Suns. Sloppy ball handling and poor interior defense turned the contest into a track meet as both teams sprinted up and down the court. It was Houston, however, that would come out on top as they were propelled once again by a prolific performance from James Harden.

Points in the paint continues to be a problem

With all the talk about Houston searching for another wing to trade for in the beginning of the season, the target has seemingly shifted toward more rim protection. Clint Capella's absence from the paint has exposed Houston as woefully undersized and practically incapable of defending interior penetration. The Suns focused on that weakness as forwards Josh Jackson, and Kelly Oubre Jr. slashed their way to 25 and 23 points respectively. DeAndre Ayton continued his impressive rookie campaign as well, adding 15 points of his own inside. Once again the Rockets were outscored 62-50 inside the paint.

The Chris Paul conundrum

While still clearly the best option the Rockets have at point guard, Paul is definitely not the version of himself that helped guide Houston to a franchise-best 65 win season just last year. At least not at the moment. Coming off an extended absence due to injury, Paul has seemed slightly off while trying to find a rhythm in an offense that has been dominated by James Harden. Paul capitalized on the lack of experience from the young Suns team with 5 steals, but his 6 turnovers were hard to ignore. Hopefully it's simply a matter of acclimating to the styles of new teammates and not a sign of something worse.

Harden continues to soar

With 44 more points, Harden extended his streak of consecutive 30-point games to 27, inching closer to the second longest streak of 31 set by Wilt Chamberlain. It was also his 20th 40-point game, a feat matched only by Wilt, Michael Jordan, and Rick Barry within the first 50 games of a season. He also added 8 rebounds and 6 assists and 3 steals in the effort.

Rockets player of the game

James Harden: 44 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals

Suns player of the games

Josh Jackson: 25 points, 5 rebounds

Next up:

Houston travels to Sacramento to take on the Kings at 9 central on Wednesday.

Breaking down the loss

How the Rockets lost their chance at the sweep

Tim Warren/Getty Images

Monday night the Houston Rockets took on the Utah Jazz with every intention of completing the sweep against their first round opponent. The Jazz had other plans, however, and despite a third quarter run by the Rockets to retake the lead, it was the Jazz who would ultimately battle back and take game four. Utah's hopes remain alive in the 2019 playoffs, yet in spite of their victory they still trail Houston three games to one.

Out muscled

The Rockets came out flat from the get go and that tempo seemed to carry with them throughout the match up. They were out-assisted 14-24, out-rebounded 48-62 (16 of which were offensive), and brutalized in points in the paint, 22-52. It was a lackluster effort, and yet the Rockets remained competitive until the final seconds.

Donovan Mitchell Explodes

Despite poor play all around the Rockets were still hanging around late into the fourth. Their chances of a come from behind victory were quickly dashed when 2nd year guard Donovan Mitchell turned on the jets. Mitchell fired 6-12 for 19 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter alone, including two back to back three-pointers to put the game away late. Mitchell's outburst was perfectly timed and integral in staving off Houston's comeback.

No backup

James Harden shook off his unusual game three performance with a solid 30 point outing, matched closely by 23 points from Chris Paul. Aside from them, however, Houston received little assistance from their supporting cast. The Rockets bench fired a collective 2-16 and accounted for 5 points. The Jazz bench in contrast went 9-22 for 28 points. Harden and Paul can do whatever they want on the court, but if this is the support they can expect moving forward, Houston won't last too much longer this postseason. It's highly unlikely the bench remains that ineffective moving forward, but it's worth keeping an eye on.

Rockets player of the game

Chris Paul: 23 points, 7 assists, 8 rebounds, 5 steals, 2 blocks

Jazz player of the game

Donovan Mitchell: 31 points, 4 assists, 7 rebounds

Next up

The Rockets return to Houston for game 5 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals on Wednesday at 7:00 pm, central.

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