Houston • The NBA is a make-or-miss league, many observers are fond of saying.
Hitting shots can flummox a great defense, and that’s what the Houston Rockets did to the Utah Jazz in a Game 1 Western Conference semifinals win. James Harden and Chris Paul sized Jazz defenders up, created space and hit step-back 3-pointers, teaming up for 10 of the Rockets’ 17 3-pointers.
But, here’s the dirty little secret from Sunday: The Jazz were happy with the shots Paul and Harden took. They were contested looks. And when you are dealing with All-Stars, they tend to make difficult shots.
But they didn’t make those shots on Wednesday night. Harden was 2-for-10, Paul was 2-for-5 and the Rockets overall were 10 of 37 shooting from beyond the arc, an appreciative dropoff that was one of the keys in the Jazz’s 116-108 win in Game 2 which ties the series at 1.
“Our shots weren’t falling tonight, but it was more than that,” Houston guard Eric Gordon said. “We’ve had plenty of games where our shots weren’t falling. It just wasn’t working well for us offensively and defensively. Defensively is where we have to hang our hat at, and we didn’t play as well on defense as we normally do.”
Utah’s game plan defensively bothered the Rockets. The Jazz didn’t help off shooters as they did in Game 1, which left Harden or Paul free to play the pick-and-roll effectively with Clint Capela. It resulted in a lot of dunks and layups for Capela, on his way to a 21-point night. But as a tradeoff, shooters such as PJ Tucker, Trevor Ariza, Gordon and Ryan Anderson weren’t granted much space to get shots off.
Secondly, the Jazz were much more physical with Harden and Paul. Dante Exum and Royce O’Neale both played full-court defense, bothering Harden and Paul. The stats show that Harden finished with 32 points and 11 assists — but by the second half, Harden was playing on weary legs, and missed several shots badly down the stretch.
“They came out with had a different game plan and did things differently,” Harden said. “It kind of caught us off-guard a little bit. We adjusted to it in the second quarter. We were a little more aggressive and things changed. But, we can’t get down by 19 points, no matter who we’re playing.”
Down the stretch, Houston went 3 of 12 in the fourth quarter from 3-point range, with Harden and Paul combining to go 2 of 7 as the Jazz conceded mid-range shots and drives to the basket. Now, Utah’s defense puts the onus on Houston to make adjustments for Friday night’s Game 3.