SALT LAKE CITY — On Tuesday, while fighting for the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference, the Houston Rockets led the Oklahoma City Thunder by 14 points with 9:26 remaining in the fourth quarter.
In the following four minutes, the Rockets missed all five of the shots they took, turned the ball over three times and gave up the lead as the Thunder roared back on a 15-0 run. The Rockets reset and found themselves with a four-point lead and the ball with less than 30 seconds left in the game and lost after a Russell Westbrook running 3-point shot and a game-winner from Paul George in the corner with 1.8 seconds left.
George hitting a tough, contested shot to give the Thunder the lead with almost no time remaining should bring back some bad memories for the Jazz, but it should also give them some inspiration.
With a playoff series imminent and diminishing success against the Rockets as the regular season progressed, the Jazz can look to the team that handed the Rockets just their fourth loss in their last 24 games.
Here is a glimpse into what the Jazz can learn from the Thunder’s victory over the Rockets on the penultimate night of the NBA regular season.
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The Rockets have one of the most talented backcourts in basketball; James Harden leads the league in scoring by a wide margin with 36.1 points per game. He is seventh in the league in assists and averages the second most steals per game. Chris Paul is third in the league in both steals and assists.
Despite this, the most glaring weakness in the Rockets’ game is their propensity to fall apart offensively in big moments. While it is not as extreme as going 0-27 on 3-pointers as they did in last year’s Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals, the Rockets’ unique aptitude for giving up big leads was highlighted against the Thunder.
This tendency for offensive peaks and valleys is predicated on the Rockets’ fundamental strategy of isolating Harden and hitting a lot of 3s. If one of those things does not work at any point in the game, the offense crumbles.
The Thunder disrupted the offense by keeping the ball out of Harden’s hands during the final stretch. This forced the other players to create their own shots and make mistakes, resulting in the nearly five-minute scoring drought mentioned above. Regarding the 3-ball, Paul and Gerald Green each shot 5 of 9 from 3, but the rest of the team amassed only eight makes in 35 attempts, just 23 percent shooting from everyone else.
The Thunder took advantage of the Rockets’ one-dimensional offense and the Jazz can do the same.
The Thunder play some of the toughest basketball to be seen in the modern NBA.
This physicality led to an enormous disparity in rebounds throughout the game, as the Thunder pulled down 67 rebounds to the Rockets’ 46. The Jazz should look to control the paint with Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors using their height to bully the undersized Rockets.Comment on this story
Steven Adams, despite having a particularly bad game shooting, played well defensively and showed almost no hesitation in challenging Harden with contact on drives, causing a lot of missed shots in the paint. Gobert has had a better season than Adams in virtually every measurable quality and can have a massive impact on the games ahead if he employs some of the same tactics used by Adams.
To accompany physical defense, the Thunder simply outhustled the Rockets. Harden lurched out to a 26-point first half, outscoring George and Westbrook combined, but put in a noticeably weaker effort in the second half. Where the Thunder were diving for loose balls, fighting for rebounds and pushing the pace, the Rockets were failing to get back on defense. Thirty-two of the Thunder’s 112 points came off the fast break, exposing the Rockets as having either a tired or lazy defense.