We just adjusted our attitude and spirit and energy and did it. —Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni
SALT LAKE CITY — The Houston Rockets were all about business on Friday night.
Being on the road, the rowdy Utah Jazz fans, the City Edition court and uniforms — none of that mattered once the ball was tipped off at 8:30 p.m.
After suffering their first postseason loss at Toyota Center on Wednesday, Houston wasted no time stealing the show in Vivint Arena to blow out the Jazz 113-92 in Game 3.
“We made a lot of adjustments,” said Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni. “That seems to be the key word. We just adjusted our attitude and spirit and energy and did it.”
Houston immediately set the tone with its highest scoring first quarter in three years.
Joe Ingles brought the home fans to their feet with a deep 3-point bomb to open the game, but that momentum didn’t carry over. The visiting Rockets held their composure and put on an offensive clinic, pulling ahead by as many as 22 points in the first quarter, behind a balanced scoring attack from James Harden, Chris Paul, Eric Gordon, Clint Capela, P.J. Tucker and Trevor Ariza.
The Rockets shot 58.7 percent while holding star rookie Donovan Mitchell to 1-for-10 shooting in the first half to jump ahead 70-40.
For the game, Houston would go 48.8 percent from the field, pushing the lead up to 38 on the night.
Harden finished with 25 points, 12 assists and four rebounds. Gordon added 25 off the bench, Paul scored 15 points, seven rebounds and six assists while Ariza and Capela added 11 apiece and Tucker scored nine points.
“We had respect for them already,” Paul said after Game 2. “They won, like we said, they came out, they made shots, they were aggressive, and we didn’t.”
For the third consecutive game, Utah was playing without starting floor general Ricky Rubio, who is nursing a left hamstring strain. He suffered the injury in Game 6 of the Oklahoma City Thunder first-round series and there’s still no official timetable on his return, although it was originally speculated to be 10 days.
Mitchell ran point in his absence, but the team struggled without Rubio’s playmaking ability as the Jazz ended with 16 turnovers to Houston’s nine. Mitchell scored 10 points on 4-for-16 shooting along with three assists and three turnovers.
“He’s shooting. He’s making progress,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said of Rubio. “How much progress? It’s always hard to gauge. I think it would be imprudent of me to try to be more specific than that, because we don’t know.”
Houston hasn’t lost back-to-back games in four months, since falling to the Golden State Warriors on Jan. 4, then on the road to the Detroit Pistons on Jan. 6 during the regular season. Much praise was also given to Jazz guard Dante Exum after Game 2 for holding Harden to 0-7 shooting on 22 possessions, but Houston’s MVP front-runner had little trouble picking his offensive spots in Utah with his third double-double over the last four games.
Utah began to show life at different spurts during the second and third quarters, but was still in a deep hole. Royce O’Neale went on a seven-point personal run capped by a driving layup at 6:01 to trim the deficit to 49-34 in the second quarter, then the team announced that Derrick Favors wouldn’t return with a left ankle sprain in the third quarter.
By the fourth, the game was completely out of reach with Houston continuing to apply pressure.
Even in defeat, O’Neale stepped into a starting role for the third straight game to end with a team-high 17 points and five rebounds as Rudy Gobert grabbed nine rebounds with a dozen points. Alec Burks was once again solid off the bench with 14 points and four rebounds. Ingles would go 2-for-10 on the night for six points.
Game 4 is set for 6 p.m. Sunday as Utah will attempt to even the series at 2-2.
“We’ve just got some very talented basketball players. Sooner or later, they figure out what’s working,” D’Antoni said. “It’s not going to work all the time, you can’t just go out and beat people. This is a very good basketball team and I’m sure Sunday that we’ll see another version of them, but to be able to do what our guys do and get these leads and stuff, it’s not easy. You just can’t do it all the time.”