In the most important game of the season, the Jazz couldn’t make a shot.
Given a chance to fight their way back into the series with a Game 3 win, the Jazz did nearly everything right: They limited James Harden and the Rockets’ vaunted offense, they got Donovan Mitchell going at the rim, and they generated open shots from all over the half-court.
Those shots just didn’t go in. The Jazz shot just 4-of 26 on wide-open shots — defined as those in which the closest defender was at least 6 feet away — according to the NBA’s tracking data from Second Spectrum. That’s only 15% on the easiest, best shots that the Jazz’s offense could generate.
As you’d expect with a stat like that, everyone was culpable. Joe Ingles shot just 1 for 6 on those wide-open shots that he normally makes many more of, Royce O’Neale also shot 1 for 6. Donovan Mitchell made none and missed three, including the game-tying opportunity Saturday night. Jae Crowder missed both of his wide-open looks, while backup power forward Georges Niang went 1 for 5 on wide-open ones. Only Kyle Korver can be reasonably acquitted, making one of the two wide-open shots he got.
The Rockets know that pain better than anyone. In last year’s Western Conference finals, the Rockets fought the defending champion Golden State Warriors to seven games. And then, as the two teams played for all of the marbles, Houston’s offense went cold. The Rockets missed 27 straight 3s at one point during the contest, making just seven of 44 overall.
“We don’t talk about that in Houston,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni laughed, when asked about it.
But while the misses were heartbreaking, both for Houston last season and for the Jazz on Saturday night, there’s a certain level of acceptance that basketball players learn over the course of their careers: Sometimes the basketball gods favor you and the shots go in, sometimes they don’t.
“It’s actually easier to move on from, because we took a lot of shots that we always take,” Rockets forward P.J. Tucker said about his Game 7 experience. “Trevor [Ariza] went 0 for 12, but I’d let him shoot those 100 times. Guys were shooting their shots in their spots. You live and you die with it, and it makes it a lot easier. Even though it’s tough, it makes it easier.”
“There’s nothing any of them can do, they’re trying to make it, I don’t think any of them are trying to miss it,” D’Antoni said. “It’s just one of those quirks that happens and we took advantage of it.”