HOUSTON — Sunday’s 32-point Game 1 loss to the Houston Rockets marked the Utah Jazz’s second-worse playoff loss in franchise history.
“I didn’t even know that,” Jazz forward Derrick Favors admitted the next day, following film session.
Game 1 may have gotten out of hand during the second half, but Game 2 on Wednesday was completely different.
By the end of the first quarter, the Jazz were already trailing 39-19 with reigning MVP James Harden taking control from the tipoff.
Harden went off for 25 points in the first half to finish with 32 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists for his third career playoff triple-double in Houston’s 118-98 victory to take a 2-0 edge in the first round series.
Ricky Rubio may have been on the receiving end on many of Harden’s 17 first-quarter points, but the Jazz guard still has faith in his teammates.
“It is hard, but I’m not gonna quit. We are not gonna quit,” said Rubio, who recorded 17 points, nine assists and four rebounds. “We’re going to keep playing, giving (James Harden) different looks.”
On the first two possessions, Utah turned the ball over, then connected on 4-for-22 3-point attempts in the first half to fall behind 70-44 at halftime. The Jazz only allowed 70-plus first-half points twice during the regular season with the league’s second-best defensive rating, but Eric Gordon and PJ Tucker combined to make seven triples with 28 combined points after two quarters.
Gordon and Tucker both ended with 16 points apiece on the night to complement Harden, while Chris Paul finished with 17 points, four rebounds and three assists.
With Game 3 set for Saturday in Salt Lake City, Paul says the Rockets won’t let off the gas in Vivint Arena.
“We still can improve,” Paul said. “I just looked at the (stat sheet) and I had six turnovers, so as good as our defense has been, if we can keep them out of transition and limit our turnovers we can be even better. I like how our defense is growing.”
Utah did go on a 13-4 run to get within 17 near the end of the third quarter only for the Rockets to pull ahead 95-67 to start the fourth. The Jazz trailed by as many as 28 points on the night after shooting 21.1 percent from 3, but Texas native Royce O’Neale led the way with 17 points off the bench to tie a season high.
Jazz star Donovan Mitchell struggled to find any groove while being guarded by Gordon. He finished with 11 points on 5-for-19 shooting with six assists, five personal fouls and four turnovers. Mitchell didn’t really have much to say after the loss as he admitted, “I just didn’t play well.”22 comments on this story
“They’re ready to go,” Mitchell said. “We weren’t ready from the jump and it’s hard to come back when they’re as good as they are.”
Houston’s back-to-back blowout wins versus Utah is the first time the franchise has won consecutive playoff games by 20-plus points. Utah is looking to change that narrative.
“Hopefully we can hit some more shots, we’re going home,” said Jazz coach Quin Snyder. “They did what they needed to do here, they beat us soundly both games, but our group has been a group that’s always responded and that’s what we have to do going on. We gotta be better.”