The Rockets pinned their Game 2 loss to the Jazz on … their own sorry selves. And a whole lot of outside observers blamed them, too. In the name of accountability, those Rockets followed a worn favorites’ tradition of giving light credit to the underdogs for doing what they needed to do to win. But … ppphhfffwww, come on now. There was much more blame assigned than credit given.
And that’s understandable, expected even, but not the balanced truth.
James Harden said something afterward that stood out. Read the words carefully: “[They] caught us off guard a little bit. We can’t get down 19, no matter who we’re playing.”
No matter who we’re playing?
Not even the lowly Utah Jazz?
He recovered to some degree by adding: “That’s a pretty good team down there.”
Chris Paul, Luc Mbah a Moute and others did sprinkle in some compliments. But most of the reaction affirmed and echoed the egocentric what-the-hell-we-just-went-through-the-motions theme.
“Just our rhythm,” Clint Capela said. “I think our rhythm, our spirit, wasn’t here right away, so I think it took us too much time to get that.”
Said coach Mike D’Antoni: “It’s not easy. This is the NBA. This is the semifinals. It’s not easy. We got lulled into it, and we paid for it.”
He also said: “We can correct everything.”
Eric Gordon said: “We got to play with more energy. We didn’t do that from the start. It wasn’t working for us offensively or defensively.”
The Jazz had something to do with that.
D’Antoni said the Rockets not only lacked energy, they lacked moxie.
Funny how many teams since the last week of January the Jazz have made look low on energy, deficient on moxie, all as they, themselves, lacked and were deficient of neither.
The Jazz should have proved to everyone what they had long ago proved to themselves — that they are made of more than a nice rookie, a big defender and a bunch of guys who really aren’t much to look at or worry about.
Quin Snyder relished in the postgame the same notion he’s taken satisfaction from for months now: The strength of the team is the team.
“When guys have confidence in each other,” he said, “it allows the confidence individually to show up. … We had six guys in double figures. it speaks to those guys playing at a high level.”
At least the Jazz could praise their own play.
Perhaps few or no one — present company included — thought they would steal home-court advantage from the league’s best team at Toyota Center, except for … again, themselves.
It’s one thing to roll up a 19-point lead in the first half. It’s quite another to come back from losing that lead, falling behind by five in the second half then storm back to win the thing by eight.
By the Rockets’ reasoning, they lacked energy then regained it then lost it again. How exactly does that happen? It looked more like the Rockets started slow, charged back then the Jazz stiffed the charge with their own strong, clutch response.
It’s not difficult to grasp why the Rockets mostly wanted to blame themselves. At this juncture in the series, they certainly don’t want to concede that the Jazz are on their level. They won 65 games this season and swept the Jazz in the regular season. There was condescension throughout their win in Game 1, almost a bit of pity for the seemingly overmatched Jazz.
But there was no mismatch this time around.
And the Rockets wanted to admit to nothing outside their control.
The Jazz went ahead and did the admitting.
Said Donovan Mitchell: “Everybody stepped up and played well. The biggest thing is we defended.”
They defended and they offended.
When the Jazz went down 77-72 late in the third quarter on a P.J. Tucker dunk in Derrick Favors’ face, the simplest thing for them to do at that point would have been to acquiesce. But as mentioned, the strangest thing happened: They fought back fiercely.
And it was the Rockets who couldn’t keep up. Their last lead came at 94-92, and the Jazz separated themselves over the final seven minutes with the help of Dante Exum, Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Jae Crowder, Rudy Gobert. Everybody was in the pool. Alec Burks contributed, mostly earlier in the game, with 17 points on 7-for-11 shooting. Ingles had a career-high 27.
At the defensive end, the Jazz ran the Rockets off the 3-point line and Houston struggled from distance, unlike its accuracy demonstrated in the first game. Did they simply miss shots or did the Jazz force them to miss shots?
For their own part, the Jazz were dialed in on deep shots and just about everything else. Their composure is what stood out, as though they knew something nobody outside their inner circle knew, and the joke turned out to be on everybody else, especially the Rockets.
The unsuspecting home team apparently had no clue, and even after the Rockets experienced the Jazz’s focused, well-adjusted play first-hand, they in large measure did not see it that way. They saw a loss. Not a Jazz win.
Truth is, before it happened, none of us saw the Jazz winning Game 2 — except for … well, You-Know-Who. Makes you wonder what they see for Game 3.
Gordon Monson hosts “The Big Show” weekdays from 3 to 7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.