Houston • Fumbling the ball out of bounds, then failing to rotate and allowing a lob for a dunk. Losing control of the ball again the next time down, yielding a transition layup, and committing a silly foul for a three-point play to top it off. One missed shot, two missed shots, three missed shots in a row to follow.
That’s how the Jazz started Game 2 on Wednesday. That’s how they fell behind almost immediately.
It not only didn’t get better in the subsequent minutes, it somehow got worse. More inability to handle Houston’s pressure. More coughing the ball up. More missed shots from the perimeter. And more missed defensive assignments.
After all the talk in the days following Game 1’s 32-point blowout about the need to impose their will early, how did the Jazz manage to come out so flat and lifeless in Game 2?
“They’re playing more aggressive than we are. We’re a little too nice. If you’re going to be nice, you’re going to get your ass kicked every night,” said center Rudy Gobert. “It’s just mental. We can say whatever we want, but if we’re too nice, they’re not going to respect us — they’re going to kick our ass.”
Yeah, after losing the first two games of the series by a combined 52 points (and it was really only that close because Houston played a somewhat disjointed second half Wednesday night), it’s fair to say that’s what’s happened so far.
Why, though? How has it gone so wrong for a team that’s universally regarded for its toughness?
Donovan Mitchell said Utah simply didn’t have it from the start: “They’re ready to go. We weren’t [ready] from the jump, and it’s hard to come back when they’re as good as they are. … We kind of dug ourselves a hole, and it’s hard to get back when you get down early like that. They hit everything and we missed everything, and they came out more aggressive.”
All Times Mountain
Game 1 • Houston 122, Utah 90
Game 2 • Houston 118, Utah 98
Game 3 • Saturday at Vivint Arena, 8:30 p.m.
TV: ATTSN, ESPN
Game 4 • Monday at Vivint Arena, 8:30 p.m.
TV: ATTSN, TNT
Game 5 • Wednesday at Houston, TBD*
Game 6 • April 26 at Vivint Arena, TBD*
Game 7 • April 28 at Houston, TBD*
* If necessary
Coach Quin Snyder lamented that they didn’t play with more impact: “We weren’t strong enough with the ball, and we have to play with more force offensively to get where we want to go. When we did that and were able to get in the paint and were doing some things we want to do, good things can happen.“
Ricky Rubio, in a fiery postgame news conference, said the team lacked any presence until it was too late: “In the second half … they felt us for a second. They didn’t feel us at all the first two quarters [Wednesday] and in the first game for most of the time. It’s just about us competing.”
The point guard wasn’t done there, though.
While he credited the Rockets for playing well, he also said there were plenty of issues with the Jazz’s own play, starting with what he perceived as a lack of conviction.
“I think it was more us not playing with confidence. We have to play with confidence — on both ends of the floor,” Rubio said. “We haven’t had any good stretch where we feel like [we’ve shown] the team we are.”
Finally, asked how he felt about the team’s strategy for defending James Harden and whether a change was necessary, he suggested the scheme was not working optimally because of insufficient investment from the players.
“I think we haven’t been buying in 100%. And if you’re not 100%, you’ve already lost the battle,” Rubio said. “So we just have to really be the team that we are. We’re a pretty good team with great guys. But it’s about, ‘Man up and play defense.’ ”
Whatever their issues, the Jazz are running out of time to fix them.
Still, they’re not yet to the point where they’ve given up hope they can do just that.
Rubio said he was envisioning the Jazz returning to Houston in a week with the series tied 2-2. Snyder, meanwhile, pointed out the Jazz have overcome so much adversity all season due to a slow start and an assortment of injuries that the team is already well-versed in resilience.
“Our group has been a group that’s always responded, and that’s what we have to do. We played poorly and we’ve got to be better.” he said. “… Sometimes you go through things in order to come out the other side and be better. Things like this.”