HOUSTON (ABC4 Sports) – Donovan Mitchell had gotten off to a relatively slow start this season. But on Wednesday, he showed why he is becoming one of the elite players in the NBA.
Mitchell scored 38 points, dished out 7 assists and pulled down 5 rebounds to lead the Utah Jazz to a 100-89 victory over the Rockets on Wednesday night in a game MVP James Harden left with what the team called tightness in his left hamstring.
“We did it on both ends,” said Mitchell, who made 14 of 25 shots. “We communicated, we defended, we made the proper reads. Last year, we really struggled against this team trying to figure out how to deal with the switches, but for us to compete and communicate the way we did, I was very happy.”
“I thought we played hard,” said head coach Quin Snyder. “We were fortunate they missed some shots that they’ve made before and are capable of making. I thought collectively, we were more focused, more determined, more connected on defense.”
Utah got this season’s series with Houston, who played without suspended starting point guard Chris Paul, off on a good note after the Rockets beat the Jazz 4-1 in the Western Conference semifinals after winning all four regular-season meetings.
Mitchell had his best game of the young season, after failing to score 20 points in Utah’s first three games. He said he was ”110 percent” frustrated after not playing as well as he’d liked in the last three games.
”Just watching a lot of film from the playoffs and making my reads early,” Mitchell said. “I was kind of feeling down the past few games, but my teammates had my back. I’m not content on this one game, it’s just game four. We’ve got a lot to work on, but we did our thing tonight.”
“He led us in assists, too,” Snyder said about Mitchell. “He’s a catalyst for us offensively. Our guys know that, and when we can play through him and he’s being aggressive, he’s a guy that can make plays and can make plays for other people as well.”
The Jazz had a 15-point lead early in the fourth after scoring the first six points of the quarter. Houston got going after that, scoring the next seven points, with the first four from Clint Capela and a 3 from Anthony to make it 81-75 with about nine minutes left.
Mitchell hit a 3-pointer with less than eight minutes to go to leave the Jazz up by nine. Harden re-entered the game soon after that and made a jump shot after a steal by P.J. Tucker. Tucker grabbed another steal on the next possession and dished it to Harden, who found Capela ahead of the defense for a slam dunk that cut the lead to 84-79 and had Jazz coach Quin Snyder calling for a timeout as Harden implored the crowd to get louder.
The Jazz led by eight at halftime after holding Houston to just 15 points in the second quarter and had pushed the lead to 16 midway through the third after a 3-pointer by Joe Ingles. Utah was up 75-66 entering the fourth.
The Rockets got within five points midway through the fourth quarter but Harden headed to the locker room soon after and didn’t return.
With Harden out, the Jazz regained control, scoring the next 10 points to make it 94-79 and cruise to the victory.
”Just felt tightness in my left hamstring,” Harden said. ”We’ll see how it feels tomorrow.”
Rudy Gobert had 12 points and 13 rebounds, while Joe Ingles added 11.
Utah’s defense held the Rockets to a just 40 percent shooting from the field. Eric Gordon was 5 of 21 from the field and missed his first 11 three-point shots.
Harden scored 29 points and Carmelo Anthony had a season-high 22 for the Rockets.
The Jazz (2-2) continue their four-game road trip Saturday at New Orleans.