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Rockets scrape by the Utah Jazz behind Harden’s 47

The Jazz unable to overcome James Harden’s craftiness, or his 16 free-throw attempts

NBA: Utah Jazz at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Entering into the 2017-18 season, Utah Jazz General Manager Dennis Lindsey said he wanted teams to feel like they were walking into a painful dentist appointment when they played the Jazz. Tonight, the Jazz showed off this grating, stubborn style of play as they lost 102-97 in a game that felt even closer than the final score shows. This was a game in which an unstoppable force struck an immobile object.

James Harden had one of his patented nights, scoring 47 points on 45.2% shooting from the field, and 33.3% from three. He was one of the few efficient scorers of the night. His 15 made free throws probably also helped a little. Every time the Jazz took control of the game and looked like they were going to hold onto a lead, James Harden would answer with a run of his own. The Jazz defended Harden about as well as possible on a night where everything seemed to go his way.

Chris Paul was noticeably slowed down by the Jazz defense, shooting just 30% from the field, and scoring just 11 points. Take a look a the box score, and you’ll see how brutal Utah’s defense was. Overall, Houston only shot 37.2% from the field. The biggest reason for this was the Stifle Tower, Rudy Gobert. Rudy’s box score may not show this, but it was apparent throughout his entire 31 minutes how much of an impact he was having on this game. While he only swatted away three shots, he contested countless shots, and denied even more by his sheer presence on the court.

Not only was Rudy a stout defensive presence, but Ricky Rubio and Royce O’Neale had impressive nights as well. Both were assigned to guard Houston’s best players, and both did about as good a job as any other player could under the league’s new “freedom of movement” rules. Royce O’Neale had one of his first impactful games of this season. He shot 66.7% from the field and 50% on two 3pt attempts. His tough defense on James Harden kept this game close throughout the fourth quarter.

NBA: Utah Jazz at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Reactions & Takeaways

Coming into tonight, the Jazz were 26th in the league in FG% outside of 5ft. In other words, the Jazz are the fifth-worst shooting team in the league. It seems the team understands this weakness, as their 51 shot attempts per game outside of 5ft. is the lowest in the league.

As we saw tonight, it is our inside shooting that typically keeps us in games. The Jazz are 11th in the league at shot attempts inside 5ft, and 8th in the league in making those shots. So it makes sense why the Jazz tend to go on runs when they focus on breaking into the paint. This focus on inside shots and tough defense allowed the Jazz to make runs in the first, third and fourth quarters to keep this a competitive match. This takes a significant amount of discipline to do in a game where an opposing star goes off for 47 points, while drawing 16 free throw attempts.

While Utah’s defense is impressive, it isn’t difficult to tell that our offense needs some major work. The Golden State Warriors are coming to visit “Aunt Viv” this Wednesday, and the Jazz will need some kind of spark if they are to be competitive against the reigning champs.

Parting Notes

  • Out of the six games Jae Crowder has started, this is only the second the Jazz have lost. The other was a 2-point loss to the Miami Heat.
  • Donovan Mitchell had a rough night, shooting 36.4% FG%, and 25% 3pt%. His shot selection was likely a factor, looking out of control on more than one occasion. This also led to 4 turnovers. The lack of control we are seeing may be due to the amount of offensive responsibility on Donovan’s shoulders, with no consistent scoring option beside him. Regardless, Donovan found other ways to contribute, with 7 free throw attempts, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 steals. Spida ended the night with 23 points.
  • As mentioned earlier, Royce O’Neale had one of his first solid games of the season. The question now is, can Royce be a consistent net positive for this team? The Jazz could use a skilled 3-and-D player right about now, especially one who can make open shots.
  • Kyle Korver seems to be struggling to make his looks, shooting one of four on the night from three. He has shot 38.5% from behind the stripe since being traded to Utah. The last time he averaged as low as 38.6% from three on a full season was in his previous stint with the Utah Jazz in ‘08-09. We will likely see a return to the mean as he finds his groove in the offense.
  • Rudy Gobert shot 6/6 from the free throw line, and is shooting a career-best 67.3% from the line overall this season.