Without Ricky Rubio, the Jazz offense struggles to adapt against Rockets

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, left, and forward Joe Ingles pause during a time out during the second half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series against the Houston Rockets, Sunday, April 29, 2018, in Houston. Houston won 110-96. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

Houston • Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder calls it “the blender.”

When his offense is at its best, it whirls the defense into confusion, creating panicking double-teams and miscommunications that lead to open shots.

Without Ricky Rubio, the Utah Jazz had a hard time turning the blender on.

The Jazz were able to make a 110-96 Game 1 loss to the Rockets seem a little closer than it was for much of the game. But replacing Rubio, who is expected to miss several games of the series with a hamstring injury, at point guard remains as daunting a challenge as ever.

The Jazz attacked it in a variety of ways: Giving Donovan Mitchell ball-handling duties. Giving Joe Ingles ball-handling duties. Playing Dante Exum and Raul Neto for the most minutes they’ve gotten this postseason. None of them screamed as a particularly strong solution, but Utah hopes they can continue to warm up as the series progresses.

“It’s a little different playing without him, but we’ve done it before,” Ingles said. “We just gotta adjust, get everybody involved. Me and Donovan have to do a good job, especially early, of getting us into our stuff.”

It was not good early: The Jazz had trouble generating the catch-and-shoot 3-point looks that form a chunk of their offense. Most of Utah’s first-quarter shots came on individual drives or pull-ups off the dribble. Ball movement was tentative.

Even when they scored, like a Mitchell runner from along the baseline, the looks were tough for the Jazz. Eventually that found its way into the deficit: The Rockets led 64-39 at halftime, and the Jazz were shooting 40 percent from the field to that point.

While Mitchell and Ingles combined for 18 points at intermission, they combined for four assists to that point. The rest of the starting lineup had five points, and the team had eight turnovers against the Rockets’ long-limbed, switch-happy defense.

“We kind of got stagnant with the ball,” Mitchell said. “They started switching and we really didn’t figure it out until the second half. And I think obviously we didn’t have a lot of time to prepare for that.”

It did help, however, that Neto and Exum had some moments: After not playing in the second half of Game 6 against the Thunder despite Rubio’s injury, Exum got the nod again Sunday with 15 minutes, and he had nine points (with three turnovers). Neto checked in late in the third quarter and during his eight-minute stint, the Jazz outscored the Rockets by eight points.

The best thing Exum and Neto helped facilitate was the transition game, which was a reason Utah outscored the Rockets 20-13 in fast-break points.

“When we get a rebound and run into space, I think we can do a lot of good stuff,” Neto said. “That’s what we did, that’s how we got back in the game. And I think that’s how we gotta think in the next couple games.”

Rubio, his hair tied in his signature manbun and wearing a hooded sweatshirt under his blazer, could be seen on the bench having several animated conversations. He remains a resource for the Jazz, even though they no longer have his on-court production for now.

The most important quality Snyder wants from his group is decisiveness. A split second of hesitation could be the difference between getting the points or getting buried in Game 2.

“We weren’t making the right decisions, and we were too slow in making whatever decisions we were making, particularly early in the game,” he said. “You have to make quick decisions. And you have to know where you’re going with the ball, or at least have an idea.”