They’re a good defensive team, they’ve been that all year and they raised their level is what happened. —Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder
SALT LAKE CITY — Usually the first timeout of an NBA game comes around the mid-point of the first quarter. So when Utah coach Quin Snyder called his first timeout less than 90 seconds into Friday night’s playoff game with Houston, you had an idea it was going to be a long night for the Jazz.
The Rockets had just reeled off eight points in less than a minute and were off and running on their way to a convincing 113-92 victory that gave them a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
The Jazz could point to the Rockets suddenly finding the hoop (48.8 percent) after getting outshot the first two games of the series, but much of the Jazz early struggles were of their own doing, particularly a boatload of turnovers that dug the Jazz a hole they couldn’t get out of.
It’s not like the Jazz hadn’t been struggling with turnovers already in the series with 18 in the first game and 17 in the second. On Friday the Jazz finished with 16 but had six in the first quarter alone when the Rockets raced out to a 39-22 lead. Houston, meanwhile, committed zero turnovers in the opening quarter and just eight for the game.
You could give the Rockets credit for improved defense over Wednesday when they allowed the Jazz to shoot over 50 percent and score 116 points. But most of the Jazz mistakes came on their own accord.
The Jazz turnovers in the first nine minutes of the game:
• Donovan Mitchell couldn’t find anyone to pass to from under the basket and finally threw a weak pass intercepted by Clint Capela.
• Joe Ingles’ lob pass to Derrick Favors was picked off by James Harden.
• Royce O’Neale was heading in for an apparent wide-open dunk when he lost the handle on the ball as he drove the lane.
• Ingles had another lob pass, this one to Rudy Gobert, picked off by Capela.
• Mitchell was called for an offensive foul as he drove the middle against Trevor Ariza.
• Dante Exum passed the ball into the first row after Jae Crowder moved a direction Exum wasn’t expecting.
At that point it was 39-22 Houston and the margin expanded to 30 in the second quarter when the Jazz added five more turnovers, three more by Ingles.
Snyder gave credit to the Rockets’ defense, which he said has been good all season and much better than Wednesday night.
“They’re a good defensive team, they’ve been that all year and they raised their level is what happened,” Snyder said. “We weren’t able to get some of the things we got (on Wednesday) and we might have thought it might be a little easier than it was. They raised their level and made it harder and we weren’t able to get where we wanted it to go. We weren’t able to get the ball into the paint.”
Mitchell said, “They took us out of our rhythm and we can’t let that happen. They were the aggressor all night and we didn’t respond.”
The Jazz had more lobs intercepted during the next three quarters as the Rockets had obviously figured out how to defend those passes since Wednesday night when the Jazz connected several times for easy baskets.
“Yeah there have been a lot of adjustments," said Houston coach Mike D’Antoni. “I thought our defense was superb. It’s always going to be a key for us.”
In the second half, the Jazz had only five turnovers, but by then the game had long been decided. Ingles finished with five turnovers, while Mitchell and O'Neale had three apiece.