It definitely has a reputation of being a very good crowd, but that’s not our concern. Our concern is who’s in this locker room and what we do on that court and how we communicate as a team. —Rockets forward Trevor Ariza
SALT LAKE CITY — A cute little toddler wore a pair of bulky pink headphones to protect her ears from cranked-up decibel levels inside of Vivint Arena on Friday night.
Fortunately, for the health of the ears of 18,300 fans — and unfortunately for those who wanted to loudly cheer on the home team — the Jazz didn’t give their fans much to yell about in a Game 3 blowout loss to the Houston Rockets.
There were moments when the building buzzed with ear-piercing delight and support, but there were more moments in this lopsided loss in which the noise resembled a reverent funeral more than a rowdy rock concert.
It was a much more somber feeling than a week earlier when the Jazz eliminated the Thunder in Game 6, leading to Oklahoma City star Russell Westbrook ranting about alleged vulgar and disrespectful shouts from Jazz fans.
The Rockets managed to take away one of the Jazz’s not-so-secret weapons in jumping ahead by 20 points in the first quarter. Utah’s crowd came to life a few times — either as a response to a short run or in hopes of reviving their uncharacteristically lifeless team — but Houston made it a frustratingly quiet night overall.
Rockets players wouldn’t admit they hoped to do that, but it was certainly a source of pride to turn the large concrete building into a tomb.
“It definitely has a reputation of being a very good crowd, but that’s not our concern,” Rockets forward Trevor Ariza said. “Our concern is who’s in this locker room and what we do on that court and how we communicate as a team.”
The toned-down conditions helped facilitate a pro-communication environment for the visitors.
“Our communication was one of the best of the year,” Houston forward P.J. Tucker said. “They’ve got one of the best home crowds in the league. So any time you can try to get them out of it, that’s always great. They definitely have one of the best crowds in the league.”
The oft-celebrated Jazz crowd was also a non-factor as far as center Clint Capela was concerned.
“Everybody was really focused on the game,” Capela said. “We started the game well, so it also helped whenever you’re up 20 or 30. We really did a great job by staying focused all game long.”
In hopes of promoting respect and sportsmanship, the Jazz played video clips of players, coach Quin Snyder and owner Gail Miller talking about positivity of the home-court advantage before tipoff and calling for civility in the treatment of opposing players and fans.
A few Jazz loyalists might need to pay more attention, if you ask some Rockets fans in attendance.
“We’ve been screamed at a lot,” Rockets fan Macie Cisneros said Friday night.
Cisneros, a Utah Valley University student, is a Houston native and attended this game with her boyfriend. Both wore Rockets jerseys and held large face cutouts of their favorite players, Chris Paul and James Harden.
“I just said a prayer before we came in,” Cameron Liechty said, laughing.
Most fans were fine with them, either saying nothing or engaging in friendly banter, saying things like “Man, you guys are killing us!” and asking where they’re from.
“I’m supporting my hometown,” Cisneros said. “I’m from Houston.”
But there were some fans who yelled and cursed at them and the Rockets, and flipped off the enemy intruders.
“We were just there chilling, and they were attacking us,” Cisneros claimed. “They were screaming (expletive) you to Chris Paul. They were making fun of him.”
Cisneros believes the Toyota Center is less of a hostile environment for visitors. She attended a game between the Rockets and Warriors in Houston during the holidays last year and sat in front of a family of Golden State fans.
“There was a huge family from the Warriors behind us and they were the loudest, most rowdiest I’ve ever been (around) my entire life,” she said. “No one said a word to them.”
Liechty, who’s from Arizona, joked that there wasn’t much vitriol at the Phoenix Suns games he’s been to.
“Now, in Arizona, we have more fans for the other team than the Suns,” he said.
This couple bonded with some of the other Rockets fans in attendance and even took some photos because they were behind enemy lines together.
Neither was surprised that they received some negative attention — along with the mostly neutral or positive reactions.
“It’s the playoffs,” Liechty said. “We understand.”
A Jazz fan managed to turn the tables on a boisterous Rockets fan after Houston’s 113-92 win.
“I was at the game, and as we were filing out, a Houston fan started to heckle me,” Jazz fan Sara Hildebrand (@CapaXildebrand) wrote on Twitter. “But I held out my hand and he shook it and I told him that the Rockets showed why they finished (No.) 1.”
That diffused the situation.
“He smiled and said he respected the Jazz for their season,” she said. “It was nice.”