Two of the most fascinating aspects of playoff basketball and a best-of-seven series are the constant need for strategic coaching and player adjustments and the absolute requirement to call in Dr. Sigmund Freud for psychoanalysis from game to game.
Constants are uncommon.
Rarely are there complete carryovers.
Almost everything blows in or through the wind. And through the minds and bodies of premier athletes who play in and deal with the increased pressure of the NBA postseason.
Briefly punch up the pillow, lay the Jazz-Rockets second-round series down on a couch, start the meter and this is what the doctor gets:
In Game 1, the Rockets laughed — and shot — their way to a lopsided victory at home. It looked like a cartoon in which a bully character plants his hand on the forehead of another character, holding his arm straight out while that opponent’s arms and legs spin as he tries in vain to get at the meanie. James Harden had his way and Houston hit all kinds of 3-pointers while jamming up Utah’s ball-popping offense.
In Game 2, the Jazz shocked the haughty Rockets, jumping them right from start, beating them on their home floor by going early in their offense, slipping screens, making passes and drilling 52 percent of their shots. A fellow by the name of Joe Ingles hit 10 of 13 attempts and scored 27 points, a career high. On defense, the Jazz threw a rotation of players at Harden and were able to calmly withstand making their own mistakes, losing a 19-point lead as though it was no big deal. After trailing by five, they stormed back to slam the door on the Rockets’ home-court advantage, punctuating the win with memorable tomahawk dunks, a put-back by Donovan Mitchell and a runner from Dante Exum.
In Game 3, the exact opposite happened. The Rockets launched to a huge lead in Utah’s raucous building, quieting the crowd and causing Quin Snyder to call a timeout, like, 2 seconds into the game.
What did Snyder say about that?
“There are a lot of ways they score and can hurt you, but one of the biggest is just transition 3s,” he said. “They hit two immediately, and I felt like we needed to kind of be shaken a little bit. You can just tell there wasn’t the urgency that we needed, and they had that. That was reflected in those two shots. I felt like maybe we could shake ourselves and respond.”
This is why being a coach would drive many people to their wit’s end.
No urgency? In a playoff game against the best team in the NBA? In front of the Jazz’s home fans who paid big bucks to cheer them on to victory, to shock the world and take the series lead? Huh?
“Credit Houston,” Snyder said. “They did what they can do. We didn’t play well, obviously. For us, the margin of error is not that great, so when you play a team … they were focused and determined to do what they wanted to do and we just didn’t provide enough resistance in a lot of areas. And obviously I felt like that was the case early, and I wanted to talk about it quickly and see if we could get it together.”
It fell apart more.
Mitchell said the Rockets were the aggressors from start to finish. “They took us out of our rhythm. We can’t let that happen.”
He added: “We weren’t there as a team.”
And he added on top of that: “We didn’t respond in any way. We’ve got to take this one on the chin and respond in Game 4.”
Another mystery: The Jazz’s two best players did not play well, did not do what they have come to be expected to do.
Rudy Gobert struggled in the paint to slow down the Rockets’ two-point onslaught. “They are good players and they adjusted,” he said, saying also he ran up to cover drivers like Harden too much, leaving the Jazz defense vulnerable around the basket.
Said Snyder: “We were relying on Rudy to protect the rim. I didn’t think anybody really did their job defensively. It showed because it looked porous.”
And Mitchell, the Jazz’s rookie phenom, put up a dud, making just 4 of 16 shots for 10 points. As he pointed out later, he was a minus-31 during his time on the floor, an incredibly bad number.
“The shots I missed were terrible shots, they weren’t good looks, and I can’t do that,” he said. “… I didn’t do much as a whole. I wasn’t there. That can’t happen. That’s what I’ll take away the most. It’s like it would have been better if I hadn’t shown up. That’s what I did, didn’t show up at all for my teammates.”
At least the rook got points for honesty.
But then he said something that was easy to believe based on the past: “I’ll fix it.”
Sunday’s Game 4, likely a whole new adventure, now gives them that chance for a quick turnaround and a different outcome. Unless it doesn’t.
“The good thing about it is we know why we lost,” Gobert said. “It’s better than losing and you don’t know why.”
So there’s that.
But as the great basketball mind coach Leonardo da Vinci said: “Knowing is not enough. Being willing is not enough. We must do.”
Or was that Yoda?
On the other hand, Freud himself famously said: “If you can’t do it, give up.”
Sunday will reveal to everyone the unpredictable. It will reveal which way the Jazz will go.
Gordon Monson hosts “The Big Show” weekdays from 3 to 7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.