“We matched their intensity,” Jae Crowder said. “But we didn’t play smart the whole time.”
We could end the recap right there. That encapsulates the entire game. The Utah Jazz came out with energy. There wasn’t a second in this game that you felt that Utah wasn’t playing with intensity and urgency. They made the hustle plays. They made Houston have to make the extra play on the offensive end. The Rockets were going to have to work for this win, and ultimately, Houston did work, but they still won 100-87.
Threaded into the tapestry of this game were the mistakes of a team that was desperately trying to overcompensate for the loss of their starting point guard while injuries are mounting up in a series against two future hall of fame guards and a center who is having a Rudy Gobert glow up type season. Against a middle of the pack team, you can survive this. But against a team with an offense built like a Terminator, you have to execute with machine precision, or else you’re best isn’t good enough. Unfortunately for Utah, their best might not be good enough.
Donovan Mitchell had 25 points but was 8 of 24. He did pull down 9 rebounds and get 4 steals, but other than Mitchell no one could get going. The only other Jazz player that looked like he was gaining momentum was Exum who had to come out of the game with a hamstring injury. Luckily, it ended up being hamstring soreness, but he could be out for the remainder of the series. Rudy Gobert had 11 points and 10 rebounds, but the Gobert effect has been rendered neutral on defense thanks to Clint Capela. Never would I have expected Rudy Gobert to look so overpowered in a matchup, but here we are.
James Harden continues to dominate. While we could write a thousand words on the state of refereeing, let’s stick to the fact that he knows how to work referees worst instincts to his benefits. You can hate the player, but you can’t be mad at a player for working the rulebook in his favor. Gotta hate the game, and Harden isn’t the game. Harden and Chris Paul had 24 and 27 points respectively. They have taken full advantage of Utah’s void at point guard left in the wake of Ricky Rubio’s hamstring injury. Clint Capela rebounded like a man possessed, five offensive rebounds with ten defensive rebounds for the game. He also had six blocks. He made Rudy Gobert look like his understudy.
It’s tempting to start to write the obituary to the Utah Jazz’s season, but it feels disrespectful to a Jazz team that has time and time again proved all of us (myself many times included) wrong. They weren’t supposed to go on an 11 game win streak. They weren’t supposed to get back into the playoff race. They weren’t supposed to have a rookie of the year candidate drafted at 13. They weren’t supposed to even be a playoff threat after July. Ricky Rubio wasn’t supposed to be able to shoot threes. They weren’t supposed to be a five seed. They weren’t supposed to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder. They weren’t supposed to steal one game in Houston. Now here we are—one more time—saying that they’re not supposed to win in Houston down 3-1 against the best team in the NBA. The odds say they’ll lose and it’ll be over. But until it happens, we’ve learned our mistake with this squad. Don’t ever count this team out until they’re really out.