By MATTHEW COLES Associated Press
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — James Harden overcome a horrible shooting performance and scored 14 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter, leading the Houston Rockets to a 104-101 win over the Utah Jazz for a commanding 3-0 lead in their first-round playoff series.
Harden made a 3-pointer and added two free throws with 42.4 seconds left to give the Rockets a 101-97 lead. After Donovan Mitchell made two free throws, Harden missed another 3-point attempt, but P.J. Tucker, who finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds, grabbed the rebound, was fouled and made one of two free throws.
Mitchell had a wide-open look at a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession, but like so many of his shots in the hard-fought contest, it was off the mark.
Game 4 of the best-of-seven Western Conference series is Monday night in Utah.
Harden misfired on his first 15 shots and was 3-for-20 shooting with 10 assists. He was 14 for 16 from the line.
Chris Paul scored 18 points and Clint Capela had 11 points and 14 rebounds for the Rockets, who won despite shooting 38.4 percent from the field and 67.6 percent from the line.
Mitchell scored 34 points but struggled shooting, too, making just 9 of his 27 attempts. Derrick Favors had 13 for the Jazz.
Royce O’Neale, who played tenacious defense on Harden, made a 3-pointer for Utah’s last lead at 89-88.
The Jazz led most of the game, but never by more than eight.
The Rockets made their move in the fourth quarter.
Gerald Green made back-to-back 3-pointers and Harden added a pair of free throws with 8:33 remaining put the Rockets up, 84-80.
After two slow starts in Houston, the Jazz came out energized with a deafening crowd hanging on every basket. Utah led 11-3 and Harden picked up two fouls in the first 94 seconds, but stayed on the court. He couldn’t find his rhythm until the stretch run.
The Rockets have made no secret they are keying on Mitchell and Ingles to take away their playmaking and make other Utah players beat them. So far, no one else has made them pay.
Mitchell vowed to be more aggressive and apologized for being a “no show” early in the series. He re-introduced himself to the series in an exuberant show of shot-making and open emotion after big plays. But it didn’t last.
Prior to Saturday’s big game, Mitchell was shooting 32.6% and had more turnovers (nine) than assists (six). After his hot start, Mitchell missed 11 straight field goal attempts but never stopped attacking.
Harden was missing 3-pointers and floaters, including two that were rejected by Rudy Gobert early in the game, and didn’t convert one until his emphatic fast-break dunk with 7:34 to play. But then he made a step-back 3-pointer to give Houston its largest lead at 89-83.
The leading MVP candidate did get to the line — something the Jazz have tried desperately to avoid. But he also spent a lot of time down on the floor as the Jazz were much more physical than in the two earlier Houston blowouts.
Gobert had 10 points, eight rebounds and seven blocked shots.
Before the game, Mike D’Antoni said all the talk about playoff adjustments is overblown.
“It’s mostly going to come down to the heart and soul of the players and if they’re going to come down and force their will, play hard and get into people,” he predicted.
Rockets: Rivers and Ingles got double technicals in the second quarter for tossing the ball at each other. … In the third quarter, Harden was wrapped up by Royce O’Neale on a fast break and landed awkwardly with O’Neale on top of him in the row of cameras beyond the baseline. … When Harden shot free throws, the crowd often chanted “Flopper! Flopper!”
Jazz: Gobert had five blocks in the first half. … Jae Crowder started in place of Favors for the first time in the series. … Jazz missed six free throws in the first four minutes of the second half. … Utah was 12 of 41 from beyond the arc.
Game 4 is Monday night in Utah.