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Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets to battle for control of the series

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Utah punched back in game 2. Can they continue to beat up Harden and the Rockets?

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

The Utah Jazz return home for game 3 of the Western Conference semi-finals vs the Houston Rockets, after stealing home court with an impressive victory in game 2. Quin Snyder and his staff had 3 days to prepare, study film, and gameplan, and it paid immediate dividends in game 2. The Rockets defense was punished early for trying to switch in pick and roll situations, as Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert slipped picks and got to the basket for easy dunks and layups. Utah caught Houston off guard by pushing the pace, doing damage in transition and catching the Rockets on their heels.

Utah’s defensive gameplan stifled James Harden and Chris Paul, as Royce O’Neale, Dante Exum, Jae Crowder, and Alec Burks all played key roles in the win. Houston’s role players were severely limited, and the usually hyper-efficient James Harden struggled to score against Exum’s hounding perimeter defense.

Both teams had key players in foul trouble for significant portions of the game. Harden, Paul, Mitchell, and Exum all ended the game with 5 fouls. 45 fouls were called in this game. That helped throw off the rhythm of Houston’s high-powered offense

Joe Ingles scored a career-high 27 points on 10-13 from the field (7-9 from 3), and Donovan Mitchell set a franchise rookie record for assists in a playoff game with 11 (a career high), beating John Stockton’s previous record of 10. Exum played the game of his life, defending Harden on 22 possessions and surrendering just 2 points to the MVP. TWO. POINTS. Burks and Crowder were hitting shots, and Favors and Gobert played efficient games with tough interior defense.


Game Info

When: 8:30MT • Friday May 4th, 2018

Where: Vivint Smart Home Arena · Salt Lake City, Utah

TV: ESPN

Radio: 1280 AM/97.5 FM The Zone,

Injuries:

Utah Jazz:

Thabo Sefolosha - Knee - Out for season

Ricky Rubio - Hamstring - Out for 10 days

Houston Rockets:

Nobody. Must be nice.


What to watch for

Houston’s response to being punched in the mouth

NBA: Playoffs-Utah Jazz at Houston Rockets
“Flop on 3. 1, 2, 3!”
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Utah’s young, inexperienced guards outplayed, outperformed, and out-muscled Houston’s backcourt (plus PJ Tucker got punked by Donovan on a loose ball). The future hall of famers can’t be happy with a game 2 loss. Expect them to come out angry, determined, and looking for every opportunity to bait a ref into blowing the whistle. They’ll try to win this game by shooting 40 free throws.

Utah will need to stay composed through Harden and Paul’s ref shenanigans, and stay focused on playing fundamentally sound defense. The Jazz need to stay disciplined, stay home on shooters, and keep executing Quin Snyder’s gameplan. If they do that, they’ll be in a position to win game 3.

Donovan Mitchell bounce back game

Mitchell shot just 6-21 from the floor (2-8 from 3) in game 2, though he did still have a positive impact with 11 assists. Expect him to bounce back by attacking the rim more aggressively, forcing the defense to foul him if they don’t want to get YAMMED on. Expect a much more efficient game shooting the basketball from Mitchell in game 3.

Mitchell watched Kobe’s “details” video twice already, and it was apparent he had already implemented some of the things Kobe pointed out. He made passes that punished the defense for being out of position. He attacked the rim. He got to his spots (even though he missed). He had a HUGE impact on the game. Expect more improvements from him in game 3.

Most likely Utah Jazz Killer: Free throws

Harden and CP3 are crafty, sneaky players who know how to cheat fool the refs into calling absurd, cheap fouls. Expect them to combine for 25 free throws in the game. If the refs are falling for their nonsense, that could spell doom for Utah’s chances.

Keys to a game 3 win

Key #1

Joe Ingles 10+ FGA. When Ingles shoots the ball 10+ times this season, Utah is 25-7 (4-2 in the postseason). Ingles needs to get involved in the offense, take his open looks, and have an impact. He’s the hidden key to Utah’s offensive success. If Ingles shoots at least 10 shots, expect a Jazz win.

Key #2

Dante Exum, lightning in a bottle. Exum was fantastic in game 2. He’ll need to maintain that level of intensity on defense, and attack like he did in game 2. He showed more emotion in game 2 than we’ve ever seen. That kind of expressiveness and aggression is a great sign. Exum plays better when he’s in attack mode on offense and in IDGAF mode on defense. If Exum plays well, Utah will win.

Key #3

Countering the counter. Utah’s bigs slipped the pick in game 2, and Houston paid for it by giving up dunks and layups. If Houston counters by changing up their defense by, say, having a perimeter defender stunt towards the paint to bump them or challenge the pass/shot, then Utah’s ball handlers need to react to that. Either a pass to the corner (where the defender just left), splitting the pick then kicking out, or making the pass earlier so the big can kick out to the shooter. If Utah has these kinds of counters in place, which Quin Snyder definitely will, expect Houston’s defense to be exploited yet again.

Prediction: Utah wins, 111-108