Fast Breaks: Jazz-Rockets

Fast Breaks: Jazz-Rockets
By Paul Forrester
Game 1   Leaders
Jazz lead series 1-0   Points Rebounds Assists
93 82
• Score one for the unstoppable force. While his reputation as a hard-nosed defense-first coach precedes him, Jerry Sloan now presides over an offense second only to the Suns in its combination of efficiency and explosiveness. The Jazz didn't tally their average 106 points Saturday night in Houston, but they equaled their usual 50 percent shooting mark from the field. And this was against the league's second-best field-goal defense in the league. They did it with Deron Williams producing a quiet 20 points and 10 assists, but they also did it with a combined 11 assists from their frontcourt. If it wasn't Carlos Boozer feeding Andrei Kirilenko as he dove toward the hoop, it was Kirilenko finding Mehmet Okur for a 21-foot jump shot. With Yao Ming out, Houston isn't likely to find many solutions at this point to match Utah's size and skill in front, and that could make this a quick series.

• The duo calling the game for the Worldwide Leader must owe Tracy McGrady ... big. They couldn't defend the Rockets superstar enough, excusing him for never getting out of the first round of the playoffs, interpreting a sneer as evidence that he was committed to taking the Rockets on his back this postseason and citing the six extra points he averages in the playoffs as evidence that he plays on a higher level at this time of year. That all sounds nice, but it doesn't hide the fact that he's never taken a team on his back when facing elimination; it doesn't hide the fact that he took and missed only three shots -- three -- in the fourth quarter of Houston's Game 1 loss; and it doesn't hide the fact that he shoots the exact same 43 percent from the field in the playoffs that he does in the regular season. T-Mac's an elite player without question, but he has been, and will be, one with flaws. We all have them; it makes us human. And until T-Mac gets out of the first round, he'll have to be satisfied being just like the rest of us.

• As important as Boozer's 20 points and 16 rebounds were in taking Game 1 for the Jazz, the difference between Utah advancing to the Finals or losing in the conference round is Kirilenko. If AK-47 takes advantage of the creases in defenses he did Saturday night, there are few teams who have an answer to his combination of length and quickness. Against the Rockets, Kirilenko moved with purpose, offering teammates an enticing target to find in the paint, and they did find him to the tune of 21 points. That Kirilenko can produce like this is no secret. Whether someone who told earlier this season that there are things more important in his life than basketball can motivate himself to produce like he did in Game 1 is anyone's guess.

• Luis Scola was the hardest-working man on the floor Saturday night. He rebounded when no one else did. He cut hard to the basket when the rest of his teammates were settling for jumpers. And he played pesky defense, drawing two quick third-quarter fouls to send Utah energizer Paul Millsap to the bench. Most important for a Rockets team that wasn't sporting a whole lot of offensive firepower, Scola inspired the club to move inside and draw fouls, which got Houston to the line 10 more times than the Jazz in Game 1. And to think all he cost the Rockets was a guard who was through with the NBA (Vassilis Spanoulis) and a second-round draft pick in 2009.

• Come back soon, Rafer. Not only did the Rockets miss your play-making, but Bobby Jackson made Houston thirst for Rafer Alston's otherwise unimpressive 39.4 field-goal shooting. Bobby, just a thought: when you miss 12 of the 15 shots you attempt, try passing to someone instead. After all, that is sort of the point when you are the starting point guard, right?
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