Rockets 100, Jazz 87 - The Cusp

By Forrest Walker on May 6, 2018

The Houston Rockets are one win away from the Western Conference Finals. If his team advances to the conference finals, it will be the first time in his NBA career for Chris Paul. It will be the team's first third-round berth since 2015, when they were felled by the Golden State Warriors in their first championship run under head coach Steve Kerr. This series is not over yet, but with a hard-fought win in game 4, the Rockets head back to Houston with a chance to close out the Utah Jazz in game 5. The Rockets have shown an ability to win when it counts this season, and tonight was yet another example of that tenacity.

 On a night when the Houston Rockets shot a miserable 26% (10-38) from three point range, they were up by as much as 19 points. In a game in which the Jazz shot multiple technical free throws and the game came within single digits in the fourth quarter, the Rockets won wire to wire. On one of James Harden's worst nights of the playoffs, the Rockets held on and slammed the door on the Jazz in their own house. They trailed for a sum total of 40 seconds during two games in Utah, as thorough a demolishing of home court advantage as we've ever seen.

As we reflect on the four games in this series, it's worth noting that the Rockets came shockingly close to winning game 2, an outing that saw them take a second-half lead after trailing by 19. The Rockets have been dominant in this series, moreso than they were in the previous one. Their defense, effort, and schemes have all improved and tightened, with the Jazz unable to hold on despite backing the team into midrange shots and holding them to a dismal 42% from the field.

The Jazz have done everything to try to slow the Rockets down. Nothing has been sufficient. Quietly, almost invisibly, the Rockets have shown their greatest strength: they can adapt and win in any gameplan. With a truly deep bench and above average players at every position at all times, the Rockets don't care what you back them into. If you want to play fast, they won 17 games in a row playing that way. Slow, isolation ball? 13-game win streak. Small lineup, twin towers, midrange, cuts, you name it. The Rockets will accept any of these and feast on them.

The best plan for beating the Rockets, over the course of this season, has been to let them take threes and hope they miss. If you're lucky, they'll miss enough for you to win... as long as you get hot, yourself. Tonight, the Jazz weren't able to surmount Houston's defense, and despite the Rockets shooting ice cold, were unable to convert a golden opportunity. Instead, they got to watch their team get swatted by Clint Capela on five separate occasions in the last three minutes of the game. In the words that earned Clint a technical foul, "I like that."

Clint Capela is a microcosm of this team. He's better than people realize, smart, quick and versatile. He's also about to be incredibly expensive. And if the Rockets can keep up this level of play, he might just have one more thing the whole team wants: a ring.

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