The Houston Rockets must have found every infinity stone on their way to Utah because they made light work of the Utah Jazz. And it only took 24 minutes to decide it. By halftime, the Utah Jazz trailed by 30. The Houston Rockets never allowed Utah to have a minute where they felt like they had a chance in this game. This was strategized destruction and annihilation meant to pummel Donovan Mitchell into the ground, take Rudy Gobert out of the equation, and force Royce O’Neale to be Utah’s only hope. This was brutal to watch.
The Utah Jazz started out the game with a long three by Joe Ingles. They led 3-0. That was their last lead. After that, the Houston Rockets took off. Utah was able to win game 2 by limiting the contributions of Houston’s role players and their star sixth man Eric Gordon.
Eric Gordon had the biggest impact in this game off all. All playoffs long, Eric Gordon has struggled from the field. The law of averages said that at one point, Gordon would go off for a big game, and he did. He was 4 of 8 from three, 8 of 13 from distance while getting to the free throw line 5 times. He finished with 25 points. His play in addition to James Harden’s 25 points, Chris Paul’s 15, and Clint Capela’s 11 made this a rough game for Utah.
On the Utah Jazz side, Donovan Mitchell had for all intents and purposes was a rookie game. It feels blasphemous to type that with Donovan Mitchell because Mitchell’s superpower is looking like a 5 year veteran with a rookie’s stamina and athleticism. Houston threw everything at him. They treated him like Ricky Rubio tonight. When Donovan Mitchell dove to the paint, Houston learned their lesson from the last game. There was no way in hell they were going to let Joe Ingles be open. This wouldn’t have worked if Capela had a rough game or was in foul trouble. When Mitchell did drive to the basket he went at full speed. At no point did he put the defender on his back to create space. He pulled up his dribble and went into Euro step mode. Every time that happened, Houston’s defenders withdrew to Utah’s shooters outside or played the pass out to the shooters. That left Mitchell on a collision course with Capela on the second step of his Euro step.
Remember how Mitchell is a two foot jumper? Mitchell isn’t going to explode to launch over Capela and go through him for the dunk. If Mitchell was able to do that, he’d be able to possible draw the foul and get a poster in the process. But Mitchell can’t. Especially on the second foot of a hard euro step cut trying to avoid Capela’s blocking prowess.
Donovan Mitchell (10 points, 4-16 shooting) on poor showing in Game 3 loss: "I was minus-31. I didn't really do much as a whole. I wasn't there. That can't happen. I would have been better off not showing up. i didn't show up for my teammates. i'll fix it." pic.twitter.com/7KFrB3YvVU— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) May 5, 2018
With Donovan shut down as a playmaker that left Joe Ingles to create. One slight problem ... Joe Ingles had 5 turnovers. Part of these were from missed lobs. But those weren’t so much the problem. Utah’s offensive sets were crammed. They had no spacing. They were forcing passes into lanes that should have never been tried. The Utah Jazz were not make the extra pass. Instead of finding the optimal angle to hit the open man, they were going for the direct hit. Houston was all over that, feasting on every Jazz player trying to go for the easy pass. Then when Utah started getting frustrated, Houston feasted on lazy passes.
This Utah Jazz game was an absolute mess. The Utah Jazz could not have played more poorly. They’re offensive sets were off from the beginning. They gave up easy points in transition to a Houston offense that needs no additional help to mow you down. Defensively they struggled to shut down Houston’s role players as they were being bombarded on all sides. Gobert struggled to be an impact in this game and D’Antoni might have made the Favors and Gobert pairing unplayable. Something that no team has figured out how to do to Utah.
Quin Snyder will have his hands full for the next 24 hours as he looks at the game film and has to figure out how to shock this Houston team again to even the series. Having Rubio back would go a long way. Rubio’s ability to probe the defense, keep his dribble and play the right angles to get people the ball where they like is criminally underrated. In this game, we saw how important a playmaker like Rubio is to allow Donovan to roam free. If Rubio returns that fixes the turnover issues and allows Joe Ingles and Donovan Mitchell to serve as weapons rather that force propelling them.
The defense is another issue. PJ Tucker hitting from beyond the arc forced Utah to have to adjust heavily with Jae Crowder. Then Derrick Favors getting hurt forced Utah to have to move Ekpe Udoh as the backup big. Jae Crowder has had a good postseason, but he might have to step into the bigger spotlight for Utah to pull off another shocker.
The biggest issue that won’t be solved overnight is experience. Not just playoff experience, but NBA experience in general. We thought experience would factor largely in the Oklahoma City series. We were wrong. The Utah Jazz made that a complete non factor bolstered by Quin Snyder’s strategy, Ricky Rubio’s brilliance, and Donovan Mitchell’s superstardom. But the stakes are a lot higher now. D’Antoni is no Billy Donovan and is not about to allow Quin to scheme his way out of this. Can Utah shock Houston? They sure can. They’ve already done it once. But it will require Utah to continue beating the odds and the house. Unfortunately, for Utah and for Jazz fans, the house usually wins.