Balanced Effort, Better D Lead Jazz to a 1-1 Series Tie With Houston

May 2nd, 2018 | by Steve Godfrey

One way or another, Donovan Mitchell was going to get two. (TNT)

Before the Utah Jazz left the Houston airport, they wanted to pack their suitcase with a win. In a game of big runs, they did enough to grab the perfect souvenir, winning 116-108 to even the conference semifinals one game apiece. 

The win helps the Jazz break an 11-game losing streak in conference semis, and they were led by, who else, Donovan Mitchell at the point. Mitchell had tied his postseason high assist figure with five dimes before the end of the first quarter, and he didn’t stop there. By the end of the game, Mitchell had 17 points and 11 assists, to only three turnovers. Houston’s James Harden did his thing by scoring 32 points, but Utah’s defense limited him to 2-for-10 shooting from deep. 

Three-point shooting tells the story.

Unlike game one, Houston was cold from deep which helped the Jazz get the win. In game one, Houston made 17 of 32 from three, but Wednesday night told a different story: 10-for-37. The Jazz defense did a great job of running Houston off the line to make sure shooters didn’t get into a rhythm. The Jazz were also quick to rotate and make sure hands were up anytime a three was hoisted.  

For the Jazz, it was also a tale of two games. On Sunday they made seven threes but doubled it up in the win: 15 triples. Utah’s playoff average comes out to 10 makes a game from three, which shows that shots were statistically bound to drop after a worse-than-usual Game 1 shooting performance. It’s certainly a key to the series: contain and deploy the threes. 

Who led the barrage? Joe Ingles, of course. Ingles had 27 points on 7-for-9 shooting while also playing his style of defense on both Harden and Chris Paul. At one point, CP3 and Ingles were talking, as you would expect, and got double-technicals. On the next Jazz offensive possession, Ingles knocked a three and stared down Houston along the way. Talk the talk, walk the walk. 

It wasn’t easy though. 

Houston and Harden did make it interesting as they stormed back from a 19 point deficit and actually took a lead. Harden, specifically, averages 7.2 points in the 2nd Q but had 17  in that second quarter on Wednesday. It carried over into the third as Houston then erupted for a 30 point quarter while holding Utah to only 22. 

In the span of 10 minutes, the 19 point lead had evaporated as the Rockets starting hitting threes and Utah started turning the ball over. In fact, Utah had three straight possessions of careless turnovers that Houston capitilized on as they took their first lead, 71-69 with five minutes left in the third. 

But the Jazz hung in there. Instead of caving and letting the home team have the momentum, the team stayed together and kept fighting. Going into the fourth, the Jazz held a slim lead 86-85.

The final stanza 

Filling in for injured Ricky Rubio, Mitchell handled the point guard duties better than expected. In fact, at times it looked like he was trying too hard to pass instead of attacking the hoop as fans are used to. This was esepcially true in the fourth quarter as it didn’t seem Mitchell had the legs to score or carry the O on his own, something he is becoming known for. He’d get into the lane and kick out to a shooter. 

Already on their heels from blowing the big lead, those kickouts starting clanking, and those passes became intercepted. It was time to wonder:  was Mitchell doing enough? Would he take over? 

Well, yes. Just not in the way you expected. 

Mitchell was running the offense like a veteran and kept doing what Quin and Co. wanted. At the 7:45 mark, Mitchell got into the lane and then found Ex who nailed the three. Next possession Mitchell was nearly trapped in the corner but found Crowder who hit the three. A few plays later he gets into the paint again, but passed it out perfectly to Automatic Ingles who buried the triple to give the Jazz a 103-96 lead and cap a 16-2 Jazz run. 

He may have shot 6/21 but he was the floor general the Jazz needed. 

Dante Exum was a valuable contributor in that last stanza as well, playing with energy and quickness that Houston couldn’t handle. On back-to-back plays, Ex blew by the defense, got into the paint, and lofted the ball high into the air for oops to Derrick Favors. Exum ended the game with nine points, those two assists, and four rebounds while giving the Jazz a +10 advantage with him on the floor. He even held his own on defense against Harden. ESPN Stats and Info pointed out that Ex matched up with Harden 22 times throughout the night, which was the most by any Jazz player. Out of those 22 matchups, Harden only dropped ONE bucket. 

Overall, it was another team win. Outside of Ex, the bench mob really stepped up as Jae Crowder dropped 15 points and 11 rebounds and Alec Burks popped off for 17 points on 7/11 shooting in 22 minutes. The starting bigs were solid as well: Favors 10 points, a block, a steal, an assist, three boards, +7; Gobert: 15 points, 14 rebounds, and 3 blocks. Despite 17 turnovers as a team, the Jazz used their depth and versatility to come together for a win. 

Play of the Game

James Harden was actually called for an offensive foul on a push-off, so I would like to give the award to him and the refs for finally making that happen, but then this dunk happened and I lost my mind. 

If I can nominate a second place play of the game, I would be tempted to give it to Dante’s dunk:

But instead feel the urge to give Ricky Rubio and his attire some love: 

What’s Next? 

The Jazz will take on Houston in Game Three on Friday night at Vivint Smarthome Arena. Tipoff is set for 8:30 MT as the Jazz will have a chance to take a series lead over the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed and the team with the league’s best record.

Steve Godfrey

Steve studied journalism and English, and now teaches high school in Northern Utah. He started his own website and writes about being a Tortured Jazz fan at: http://www.thetorturedfan.com/. He joined the Salt City Hoops team at the start of the 2017-18 season to connect with more Jazz fans and to continue to apply his passion for writing and for basketball.

2 Comments

  1. Paul Johnson says:

    Summary of tonight’s game:

    DON-O-MITE!!

    DANTEEEEEE!!

    SLOW-MO-JOE!!

    HOUDINI!!

    RRRRRUUUUUUDDDDDDDYYYYYYY!!!!

    D-FAVES!

    ROYCE-O-RONI!

    DR, JAE!!

    That’s all I have to say.

  2. Don says:

    Donovan shoots a terrible 6-21, and has the best +/- in the game of +13. Hmmmmmm

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