Jazz Seek Answers after Houston’s Dominant Game 3 Victory

May 5th, 2018 | by Clint Johnson

The Houston Rockets’s Clint Capela blocks a dunk attempt by the Utah Jazz’s Derrick Favors (15), part of a dominant defensive night that earned the Rockets an easy 2 to 1 series lead. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Story of the Game

In the first round of the playoffs, the Utah Jazz stole Game 2 from the Oklahoma City Thunder and then followed up with two decisive victories in Salt Lake City, showing that despite being the lower seed they were the superior team. After shocking the NBA by winning Game 2 in the second round in Houston, the underdog Jazz looked to revisit that script.

The Rockets’ 113 – 92 drubbing of the Jazz on their home court made crystal clear that Houston is not Oklahoma City, and the Jazz are not the better of these two teams. Put bluntly, Utah has to muster one of their better overall games, as they did in Game 2, to even stay competitive with the league’s best regular-season team.

Tonight they didn’t come close.

This one was over by halftime, where Houston enjoyed a 70 to 40 advantage. That’s right, 30 points. The Rockets outplayed the Jazz every way possible within the game of basketball.

There is perhaps no greater illustration of how superior Houston was tonight than this: Utah’s top four scorers in the series, Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Jae Crowder, and Rudy Gobert, scored a combined 35 points on 40 shots. The Rockets’s quartet of Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza, PJ Tucker, and Clint Capela scored 56 points on 35 shots.

That’s comically lopsided – and that doesn’t even include James Harden or Chris Paul. 

Everything the Jazz built in Game 2 was razed to ash tonight. It’s a position very similar to where they sat after the Game 1 beating. Quin Snyder and his team of upstarts did the implausible when faced with that challenge earlier this series. Can they possibly do so again after an even more thorough schooling?

Stars of the Game

Superstar: None

Gordon (25 points on 13 shots), Harden (25 points, 12 assists), and Capela (11 points, eight rebounds, four blocks) were easily the three best players in this game, and there’s a good argument that Paul (15 points, seven rebounds, six assists) and Ariza (11 points, three rebounds, two assists, one steal, one block) were the fourth and fifth. When a team doesn’t have one of the five best players in a game, it’s certain to be an ugly outcome, and tonight certainly qualifies.

Secondary Stars: Royce O’Neale (17 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 threes) and Alec Burks (14 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 threes)

After the Rockets went on a 10 to nothing run in the first few minutes of the game, there was painfully little for Jazz fans to cheer about in this game. The only real energy they mustered came thanks to O’Neale, whose went on a personal seven point run in the second quarter to cut Houston’s lead to 15, which given how lopsided the score was all night felt practically like being neck and neck. Utah’s less heralded rookie led the team in points in a playoff game, which shouldn’t be overlooked even a travesty like this.

In Rubio’s absence, Burks continues to get minutes (18 tonight) and to provide the concentrated scoring many expected him to display throughout the regular season. While most of his impact this game came in throwaway time1, it is great to see the talented guard proving his worth given the opportunity. Three games into the series, he’s the Jazz’s fifth leading scorer at better than 12 points per game.

Secret Star: Dante Exum (6 points, 3 rebounds, 1 block)

With the Rockets steamrolling the Jazz, it was easy to miss that Exum’s defense once again made a notable impact on Harden. He continued to pick up the likely MVP full court, slowing down a Rocket offense that was otherwise screaming downhill like a plunging boulder. Look for Exum to perhaps get more minutes in Game 4 as Snyder tries to counter Houston’s confident offense.

Stats of the Game

0 – Free throws by Utah’s starters, who were awful this game.

15 – Missed field goals in the paint by the Jazz… in the first half!

11 – Threes made by each team. Houston didn’t outshoot the Jazz; they thoroughly outplayed them.

8 – Rocket turnovers, including only three at halftime.

4 – Raul Neto’s team-high assists in this game. No other Jazz player matched that and team managed only 17.

Sundries

  • This was as complete a thrashing as the Jazz have experienced, certainly this season, and possibly in the Quin Snyder era. For perspective, consider that Harden and Paul combined for 40 points on 14 of 34 shooting (41 percent). The Jazz would take that every game. Also, Utah actually out-shot Houston from deep 38 percent to 31 percent as both teams made 11 threes. That sounds like the formula for a Jazz win: keep Harden and Paul inefficient and give Houston no advantage from long range. Both those happened and yet the Jazz were utterly crushed. That is a product of how thoroughly the Rockets outplayed the Jazz at just about every other facet of the game. 
  • Utah’s four traditional starters (Mitchell, Gobert, Ingles, and Favors), who had been awesome together to close the season, shot 13 of 38 (34 percent).
  • For the first time all playoffs, Mitchell looked like the pressure got to him. After he hurt the Rockets both by scoring and distributing in the first two games, the Rockets’s game plan was clearly to stop his ability to catalyze offense. Fantastic defense by Ariza and plentiful help defenders meant Mitchell drove repeatedly to the hoop as defenders bodied him up and never let him get separated from them, leaving him to force tough shots at the rim, several of which were blocked and none of which drew a foul2. For perhaps the first time since the Jazz entrusted Mitchell with the keys to the team, the rookie appeared lost for countermeasures to a defense scheme. He did manage to score eight points in under 11 minutes in the second half, including drilling two threes, which the team has to hope will give him confidence in Game 5. 
  • Every bellwether for the Jazz was bad tonight. Ingles, perhaps the great weather vane of the team, scored six points on 10 shots. Derrick Favors only played 13 minutes and was a minus-193, yet Crowder played 25 minutes for a minus-174. When neither of those players contribute substantially and the team is hemorrhaging points with either of them on the floor, Utah is doomed.
  • Ariza played 28 minutes. In that time the Rockets outscored the Jazz by 40.

Like many others, I have been a critic of many key pieces of this Rockets team. James Harden and his sometimes unwatchable flailing for fouls. Chris Paul’s constant complaining. Mike D’Antoni’s well-earned reputation for defensive indifference. All three are famous for flame outs in the playoffs, and not without reason. None have led a team to even a Conference Finals appearance5.

This Rockets team is different, and tonight is evidence. This is a great NBA team, a squad of true championship caliber. The roster is stocked with veteran defenders to bolster Harden’s and D’Antoni’s defensive limitations. Paul can lean on Harden’s ability to orchestrate offense when he needs rest or restored confidence, and visa versa. Capela is a stifling paint deterrent akin to that Utah typically benefits from in the person of Gobert6. And Gordon is one of the most potent weapons off the bench in the NBA.

Winning even one more game against this opponent would be phenomenal for a still-developing Jazz squad. But if that is to happen, it has to be Sunday in Game 4. If Utah loses that game, they won’t win Game 5 in Houston. So Game 4 at home will be Utah’s season, played far beyond the end most saw at the start of the year, against as tough a challenge as exists in the NBA. Can the Jazz pull off one more stunner in a season of surprise? The odds aren’t in their favor, but when has that stopped them this year?

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson is a professional author, writing educator, and editor. He teaches writing at Salt Lake Community College. A frequent presenter at both writing and educational conferences, he writes about the Jazz as a break from his other writing work.
Clint Johnson

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