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Houston holds off Jazz, 110-96

Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) drives around Utah Jazz forward Royce O'Neale (23) as the Utah Jazz and the Houston Rockets play game of one of the NBA semifinals in Houston on Sunday, April 29, 2018. (Photo: Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

HOUSTON — The Houston Rockets held off the Utah Jazz 110-96, maintaining a strong lead most of the way through Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals.

James Harden led the Rockets with 41 points as starting Jazz point guard Ricky Rubio sat out with a strained left hamstring. Donovan Mitchell and Jae Crowder contributed 21 points apiece, but the Rockets had 17 3-pointers, seven of them from Harden.

The Rockets led by double digits through most of the game, leading by as much as 25 before the Jazz narrowed the gap.

Houston and Utah are both returning to the semifinals for a second straight year. Last year, the Jazz were knocked out of the second round by Golden State, while the Rockets lost to the Spurs.

Mitchell was shaken up when Eric Gordon stepped on his ankle as he drove to the basket with about 5½ minutes remaining. He stayed on the court for a second holding his ankle before hopping up and walking gingerly to the bench. But remained on the bench for just a few seconds before returning.

Houston still had a 15-point lead later in the fourth when Gordon stole a pass from Royce O’Neal and Harden finished with a 3 to make it 103-85 with less than four minutes to go.

Both the Rockets and the fifth-seeded Jazz are in the semifinals for the second straight year. The Rockets, who beat the Timberwolves in five games to advance, lost to the Spurs last season, and Utah was eliminated by Golden State.

Game 2 of this year’s series is set to tip off Wednesday night in Houston before Games 3 and 4 move to Salt Lake City.