SALT LAKE CITY — This is how well it has to go for the Utah Jazz in order to beat Houston: almost perfectly.
And then it’s not enough.
After losing by 32 and 20 points in the first two games of the playoffs, the Jazz lost 104-101 to the Rockets Saturday, stretching Houston’s best-of-seven series lead to 3-0. How much do the Jazz need to do to beat this team?
James Harden has to miss 15 straight shots and not make a field goal until 7 minutes and 32 seconds are left in the game. Then it’s an open court layup. The Rockets have to make roughly half their free throws in that time. Chris Paul and Harden must be in foul trouble all night.
And then it’s not enough.
In the news business, there are hard deadlines and soft deadlines. Soft deadlines are slightly ambiguous and quite flexible. Hard deadlines are harsh and non-negotiable.
The Jazz missed theirs on Saturday at Vivint Arena. There’s practically zero chance at coming back now. Maybe they’ll become the first team ever to overcome a 3-0 deficit.
And maybe gas will fall to 36 cents a gallon.
Teams come back from 2-1 deficits fairly often. But trailing 3-0, the clock is tolling as the carriage turns into a pumpkin. No team has ever overcome that large a deficit. Humans have walked on the moon, invented the internet, cured polio. But erase a three-game deficit to win a series?
Not even the Easter Bunny buys that.
So the Jazz are that close to summer. Monday they host Game 4.
Introductions, though enthusiastic, were — by playoff standards — underwhelming.
Upset wasn’t in the forecast. Rain was.
It finally got seriously loud in the closing five minutes with a back-and-forth game.
Things looked good early for the Jazz when Harden drew his second foul after just 1½ minutes. Fans started chanting “flopper!” at Harden. One thing the Jazz had going for them was aggression. That was entirely missing in the first two games.
“We got some looks. Get more of those, get some shooting confidence. You can’t rely on that to create an upset,” said Snyder before the game. “An aggressive mindset will help with that.”
Meanwhile, Mitchell, who was awful the first two games, had 13 first-quarter points.
Though he wasn’t perfect, his crack up in Houston was partially abated, though after a fast start he drastically fell off.
He missed the Jazz’s last chance to send it into overtime.
It didn’t hurt that Harden’s first six shots got lost in his beard. Four more took I-80 west.
His ineffective shooting combined with the Jazz’s aggression was enough to keep the Jazz a shade ahead most of the first half.
Finally, the Jazz crowd — muted by skepticism and repeated warnings about, well, fan behavior — started to awaken. Royce O’Neale’s steal and slam uncorked the crowd. When Snyder drew a technical, the crowd chanted “Ref you (stink)!”
Whatever infected the Jazz’s shooting percentage in the first two games hit the Rockets in Game 3.
Fortune smiled on the Jazz early. They could hardly have hoped for better. Mitchell blew out of his slump with 21 first-half points. Harden missed all 10 shot attempts in that time and picked up three fouls.
Yet with a half-minute left in the half, the score was tied.
Still, the Jazz knew they were whistling in the dark.1 comment on this story
Rudy Gobert said on Friday they had been too nice in the first two games.
Saturday Joe Ingles and Austin Rivers picked up a double-technical.
Nobody on the Jazz brought treats.
In the second half Harden’s miss streak stretched to 15.
The Houston shooting percentage dipped to 36 percent — below what the Jazz shot in Game 2.
It wasn’t enough to help the Jazz win.
That’s where this series is. Utah can get most of the breaks, get the home court, shut Harden down until late in the game, and it’s not enough.
Now the deadline is lurking.