Riding defense, Rockets look for 3-0 lead at Jazz
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Potent offense isn't Houston's only formula for success. The Rockets have taken a 2-0 series lead over Utah by clamping down on the defensive end.
Going into Game 3 against the Jazz on Saturday, Houston has done everything it has needed to do defensively to take control of this first-round series. The Rockets have allowed Utah to score just 94.0 points per game and shoot 39.4 percent from the field in the two losses. The Jazz are just 15-for-65 from 3-point range in that two-game stretch.
"Our swag and our confidence is where it needs to be," Rockets guard James Harden said. "We just need to bring that to the road. We all know how tough it is to win at Utah, but we did it last year. We're focused and we're on a level defensively to where we're engaged."
No one has been more locked in for the Rockets than Harden himself. The reigning MVP is averaging 30.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 10.0 assists in the series so far. He earned his third career postseason triple-double in Game 2 after tallying 32 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists.
During the regular season, Harden averaged 33.5 points on 46.6 percent shooting against the Jazz. It dipped to 22.0 points on 42.9 percent shooting in two losses to Utah. The potential for stopping him is there, but the Jazz haven't figured out the right formula.
"It is hard, but I'm not going to quit," Utah guard Ricky Rubio said. "We're not going to quit. We're going to keep playing, giving him different looks."
Utah tried to limit Harden from driving into the paint in both games. He simply responded by hanging back on the perimeter and draining a flurry of outside baskets or kicking to open teammates inside and outside.
"When he gets rolling, nobody is better," Houston coach Mike D'Antoni said.
The challenge for the Jazz is to get rolling in a similar fashion. Utah hasn't been able to get things clicking on offense consistently in either game. In addition to their shooting woes, the Jazz have struggled with turnovers, totaling 30 over two games against the Rockets.
Things came to head in Game 2, where the Jazz fell behind by 20 points in the first quarter after committing several turnovers and having a flurry of missed shots.
"We weren't strong enough with the ball," Utah coach Quin Snyder said. "We have to play with more force offensively to get where we want to go."
Some struggles on offense for the Jazz start with the defensive pressure placed on Donovan Mitchell. Houston has kept Mitchell from making plays during critical junctures. He is shooting only 32.4 percent from the floor in the series -- including 4-of-15 from 3-point range. Mitchell is averaging just 15.0 points over two games against the Rockets.
Utah hasn't been able to deflect attention from Mitchell because the team's outside shooters are struggling to find a rhythm. The Jazz aren't in panic mode going into Game 3, though, because they are getting the looks they want.
"We've just got to keep taking our shots," forward Derrick Favors said. "Those are the shots that we normally make."
Houston beat Utah twice in Salt Lake City in the Western Conference semifinals a year ago. The Jazz averaged just 89.5 points per game in those contests.
--Field Level Media
Updated April 20, 2019