Houston • After the Jazz’s 32-point series-opening loss, they vowed to adjust and improve — specifically, by making James Harden work for his, limiting the Rockets’ open 3s, hitting some shots from deep themselves, and cutting down on turnovers.
So, after the first quarter of Wednesday’s Game 2, Harden had 17 points, four rebounds, and four assists; Houston made 6 of 13 from deep; Utah was 1 of 13 beyond the arc; and the Jazz coughed the ball up six times, leading to 11 Rockets points. The Jazz trailed by 20.
It didn’t get much better in the remaining three periods, as Houston rolled to a 118-98 victory and a 2-0 series lead that’s looking more insurmountable by the game.
This contest’s opening seconds proved an accurate harbinger of the epic disaster to come. After winning the opening tip, the Jazz’s opening possession saw them throw a bad pass and turn the ball over just 9 seconds into the game. Then, on the Rockets’ first chance with the ball, Ricky Rubio overplayed Harden to his left, Harden drove the lane with impunity, sucked in the help defense of Rudy Gobert, and lobbed a perfect alley-oop to Clint Capela.
ROCKETS 118, JAZZ 98
• James Harden destroys Utah’s defense again, posting a triple-double with 32 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists to stake Houston to a 2-0 series lead.
• Utah endures another rough performance from the perimeter, this time connecting on only 8 of 38 tries from deep (21.1%).
• Derrick Favors (12 points, 12 rebounds) and Rudy Gobert (11 points, 12 rebounds) have double-doubles for the Jazz, while Ricky Rubio has a team-high 17 points, nine assists, and four steals.
After that, it became a lather-rinse-repeat (and repeat and repeat and repeat) cycle of Jazz players leaving Rockets open in the corner, Harden finding them, and the likes of P.J. Tucker and Eric Gordon knocking down treys. Houston led by as many as 28 points in Game 2.
“Things are gonna happen during the game — Capela’s gonna get a dunk, Harden’s gonna hit a 3, you’re gonna get a foul [called], all the things you don’t wanna have happen,” said Jazz coach Quin Snyder. “And the adjustment to that is just to keep competing. … That’s the mindset that we have to have.”
On the other end, Utah had little trouble generating its own open looks on the perimeter, but considerably more difficulty getting them to go through the hoop instead of off it.
Meanwhile, Rubio said the Rockets’ early physicality, and the Jazz’s failure to match it, may have made the difference.
“The way they set the tone — it wasn’t on offense, it was on defense,” he said. “They set the tone on defense playing really hard; the first three, four plays, we got, I don’t know, three, four turnovers. It’s hard to play with a team where you’re not scoring, you lose the ball, and then you gotta play in transition. We gotta learn from them — we gotta set the tone like they did to us.”
Donovan Mitchell agreed that the team’s energy wasn’t right at the outset.
“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,” he said. “… 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.”
There were sporadic moments of promise, fleeting glimmers of hope throughout — a 9-3 run to start the second quarter to cut the deficit to 14 … an 11-2 stretch midway through the third to trim it to 17 … a 13-5 spurt in the fourth to climb within 20 — but none of them took.
Every time, Harden would wrest control firmly back, bombing away and connecting on an increasingly impressive array of shots you’d swear were bad ideas by virtually anyone else.
After snatching the momentum back with yet another stepback 3 late in the third period, Harden waved his arm dismissively, as though this all were simply too easy for him. And it may well have been.
The reigning MVP hardly broke a sweat in racking up a triple-double, this time totaling 32 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists in 33 minutes.
He had plenty of help, with Chris Paul contributing 17 points, and Gordon and Tucker 16 apiece. Nearly half the Rockets’ 38 made baskets were of the 3-point variety.
As for the Jazz, it was a second consecutive game of being hamstrung by an ability to convert open looks. They made just 39.8 percent of their shots overall, and — quite improbably — were somehow even worse from 3-point range this time, hitting only 8 of 38 tries from beyond the arc (21.1%).
“We’ve just gotta keep taking our shots. Shots that we normally make, they’ve been going in and out, some of ’em short,” said Derrick Favors. “Just shots we’ve gotta continue to take, keep being aggressive, can’t run away from it.”
Mitchell again proved unable to spark the offense, totaling 11 points and six assists, but shooting only 5 for 19 while committing five turnovers.
But few of his teammates truly made an impact on that end, either.
Some, at least, posted some serviceable-looking numbers: Rubio had 17 points, nine assists, and four steals; Favors contributed 14 points, 12 rebounds, and three blocks; Gobert added 11 points and 12 boards; Royce O’Neale had 17 off the bench on 7-for-10 shooting. But Joe Ingles was virtually invisible yet again (seven points, two assists, one rebound), and Jae Crowder had another poor shooting effort (2 for 9 overall, 1 for 6 from deep).
“We have to get ourselves going as a group, collectively. And we’ve done that, we did it in spurts during the game, but that’s obviously not enough,” Snyder said. “We have to have that more consistently throughout the course of the game.”
The teams will now head out to Salt Lake City for Games 3 and 4, and the Jazz will go back to the drawing board, looking still for those ever-elusive adjustments and improvements.
“It’s a series — until there’s four wins on their side, we’re still alive,” said Rubio. “They played really good, but I think it was more us not playing with confidence. We have to play with confidence — on both ends of the floor. We haven’t had any good stretch where we feel like [we’re showing] the team we are. Watch film, get better. Usually, it’s tough to beat us over there. We’ll try to take the advantage of playing at home and come back here 2-2.”
Utah commits a turnover 9 seconds into the game, then watches James Harden hit Clint Capela for an alley-oop on the game’s first two possessions.
13 • After the first quarter, each team had 13 attempts from 3-point range — the Rockets made six, the Jazz only one.
The series shifts back to Utah, with Game 3 slated for Saturday night at Vivint Smart Home Arena.