Houston • Joe Ingles stood in the left corner with his left arm extended as another shot swished through the hoop, and everything was right in the Jazz’s world.
Ingles’ seventh 3-pointer of Game 2 — a Jazz playoff record — clinched the Jazz’s 116-108 victory over Houston at the Toyota Center. He finished with 27 points, thanks to far more efficient shooting than James Harden, Chris Paul or any of the Rockets could deliver.
Coming in a playoff game on the road against the Western Conference’s top team, this has to rank as the franchise’s most meaningful win in more than a decade. The Jazz had lost 15 straight games to the West’s No. 1 seed in either the first or second round of the playoffs before Wednesday night.
“The series is on,” said Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni. “We have to get it going now.”
Nobody would have imagined him saying anything like that as of Sunday’s Game 1, when the Jazz trailed by 25 points at halftime of a 110-96 loss, but they responded wonderfully. This was a hallmark performance of the Quin Snyder era, the effect of coaching strategy and a group effort that brought out the best of a lot of people — including Alec Burks, Jae Crowder and Dante Exum.
Ingles kept the entire production humming in the absence of injured guard Ricky Rubio. He was great from start to finish, helping the Jazz build a 19-point lead in the second quarter and hitting shots at critical stages in the fourth period. “Every time Joe’s needed to step up, he’s been able to do that,” Snyder said. “He knew that we were going to have to take and make shots.”
Ingles took shots and made shots. Undoubtedly the only NBA player with a $52 million contract who must be prodded to shoot, Ingles went 10 of 13 from the field, including 7 of 9 from 3-point range. Harden was 2 of 10 from outside. That’s a big difference.
“I obviously wanted to be aggressive, but like I’ve said a million times, within the flow of our offense,” Ingles said.
Donovan Mitchell’s one-handed rebound and dunk of his own miss and Exum’s driving dunk will be remembered among the Jazz’s most memorable fourth-quarter moments, with Ingles’ three baskets each well-timed. His step-back jumper pushed the lead to three points; his 3-pointer bumped it to seven and his last attempt was the dagger, good for a 106-94 lead with 4:27 to play.
The rest of the game was only mildly agonizing, and the Jazz went home happy.
Anyone who was around the Jazz in downtown Houston during the two days between Games 1 and 2 easily could have come away thinking Wednesday would be different. That proved true to a stunning degree.
The players’ intelligence in making adjustments and consistency during tough times has impressed general manager Dennis Lindsey, who spoke Tuesday about how the team absorbed “some body blows” this season and kept fighting. He expected more of the same in Game 2, while observing, “The results always tell you the truth.”
This outcome? Validating, in every way.
Game 2 of the Jazz’s first-round meeting vs. Oklahoma City proved they were a better team than the Thunder, with a road win driving them toward a series victory in six games. The Jazz’s goal was to repeat that breakthrough in Houston, as opposed to being routed again Wednesday, as happened in the opening set of games at Golden State in the West semis last May.
In some ways, Wednesday’s game resembled Game 5 of the OKC series. The Jazz gave away a 25-point lead in eight minutes of that contest; they lost an 18-point lead in six minutes of Game 2, bridging halftime. The difference this time was a fourth-quarter response that impressed Snyder, among a bunch of other people.