Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 107-91 win over the Houston Rockets from Salt Lake Tribune beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Jazz’s paint defense stymies Rockets completely
Think about this: the Jazz played a defense which funnels the Rockets ballhandlers into the paint. With Chris Paul, the Jazz just stand close to him, trying to prevent the three, with the knowledge that the blowby is possible. But with James Harden, the Jazz not only funnel him to the paint, but they stand sometimes even behind James Harden to push him inside.
And yet, the Rockets scored only 22 points in the paint all night. That’s a pretty insane stat: that only happened eight times in the 1230 NBA games that happened this season. They shot 11-30 in there: 10-21 on shots at the rim, and 1-9 on everything else. That’s such a large turnaround from what happened in the first three games of the series, when the Rockets scored 62, 58, and 52 in Games 1, 2, and 3 respectively.
Rudy Gobert was phenomenal. I understand that he didn’t finish the game — more on that later — but his impact in the minutes he did play was pretty otherworldly. I think he’s the only player in the league that has a chance to block this floater from Harden:
But Derrick Favors was really great too. This is perfect: stay in front of Paul, then two very quick steps across the lane to get vertical and defend Clint Capela’s shot without fouling. He even gets a block at the end.
The Jazz’s perimeter players did well, too. Ricky Rubio, Royce O’Neale, and Jae Crowder were all very good at rotating down to Clint Capela — who has a virus of some sort, according to Mike D’Antoni after the game — and preventing him from getting easy baskets. In fact, he had only one all night.
That’s the kind of interior domination that the Jazz needed to have a chance in the series. They finally showed it, right at the death.
2. Derrick Favors finished the game over Gobert, to great effect
Again, Gobert was excellent defensively in the game, but in the fourth quarter, he got a case of butterfingers, losing control of some gettable rebounds and passes. Trying to catch up, the Rockets were playing small, with Danuel House out there instead of Capela, so the Jazz wanted someone who could take advantage.
Enter Derrick Favors, who was masterful in his ability to keep possessions alive down the stretch, smothering a Rockets comeback before it began. You know, the best way to describe this might be in sheer boring play-by-play, copied and pasted from the league’s website:
3:02 MISS O’Neale 25′ 3PT Jump Shot
2:58 Favors REBOUND
2:47 MISS Rubio 10′ Fadeaway Jumper
2:46 Favors REBOUND
2:35 MISS O’Neale 25′ 3PT Jump Shot
2:32 JAZZ Rebound (note: Rockets couldn’t corral rebound because Favors tipped it first off the Rockets’ player)
2:31 Favors 3′ Dunk
1:36 MISS Mitchell 25′ 3PT Jump Shot
1:32 Mitchell REBOUND (note: tipped out by Favors)
1:24 MISS Mitchell 3′ Driving Layup
1:24 Favors REBOUND
1:24 Favors 1′ Tip Dunk Shot
0:53 MISS Mitchell 2′ Driving Layup
0:51 Favors REBOUND
0:51 Favors 1′ Tip Layup Shot
So in the most crucial final minutes, the Jazz besides Favors missed all six of their shots. All six of them, though, ended up as offensive rebounds caused by Favors. And finally, Favors ended all three possessions with dunks and layups. That’s putting your team on your back.
I thought that the offensive glass was a domain the Jazz could really win in this series, and finally, it happened.
You also have to give Gobert credit to ceding the spotlight for the betterment of his team. “Tonight, Fav was great, Fav finished the game, we won the game. That’s why I think the deepest teams are the best teams in the playoffs," Gobert said.
“Not a lot of All-Star quality centers would say that,” Mitchell said. “I give him credit for that.”
3. Winning the battle of role players
Finally, the Jazz won the battle of the role players for the first time all series. Coming in, I thought that would be a real strength of the Jazz: I thought Jae Crowder could outplay Danuel House, for example, while Joe Ingles could duel with Eric Gordon. Kyle Korver and Derrick Favors would provide necessary scoring.
That wasn’t the case for the first three games, though: Crowder scored only 19 points combined in all of the Jazz’s first three games, while Ingles and Korver have famously struggled with Houston’s switching. (Favors has been pretty steady all series, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.)
But tonight, Jae Crowder stepped up in a big way, scoring 23 points in the game, including 14 in a tone-setting first quarter. He was aggressive in driving to the rim when the defense was sagging too much to focus on Donovan Mitchell, then did a brilliant job of attacking the Rockets on defense when they were least expecting it.
This is a lazy pass from Paul to Capela, but Crowder is watching it the whole way, breaks it up, and gets rewarded with a dunk:
This may have been the defining play of the game, when Crowder just ripped the ball from Harden’s hands as he looked to start the fast break:
Crowder is wild, and sometimes these gambles don’t work. But if he’s attacking in the right spots, it’s a huge boon for the Jazz. And even his 3-8 3-point shooting was enough to make a difference at key moments.
The Rockets are so talented that it’s difficult to see them losing three in a row, what the Jazz need now to win the series. That Game 3 shooting performance looms incredibly large. But there’s no question that the Jazz have improved their level of play throughout the series, and finally that meant a big win in Game 4.
Game 5 will be tough, but it’s not out of the realm of imagination that the Jazz might win it.