Rockets 108, Jazz 116 - A Bad Middle

By Forrest Walker on May 2, 2018

For the first time in this season's playoffs, the Houston Rockets have lost a game at home. In fact, out of seven games played, it's only their second loss. Unfortunately for them, the previous rounds don't matter, and this means they're now tied up, 1-1 with the Utah Jazz. The series now heads back to Utah, transformed into a best-of-five with the Rockets on the road. The Jazz punched back after that initial letdown, and now they've made this into a real series. If the Rockets want to take control again, they have some things to take care of.

This game was dominated by two numbers, two statistics very similar in nature but signifying two different phenomena. Both led directly to Houston's loss tonight, one of each end of the court. The Jazz shot 32 threes and made 15 of them. The Rockets shot 37 and hit 10. For the Rockets, no part of either of those two numbers is acceptable, and for very different reasons.

The Jazz normally attempt a hair over 29 three pointers a game, converting 10 of them into points. Tonight that 36.6% rate skyrocketed to 46.9%, a number which is shocking and appalling. A lot of Utah's success came on the backs of Houston's failures, and in this case the Jazz got a buffet of open looks. Joe Ingles, in particular, was a thorn in Houston's side, hitting a ridiculous 7-9 from deep, and most of them were wide open.

This is, of course, the mark of a good team with a good scheme. Utah head coach Quin Snyder has been a top prospect on the path to NBA success going back to his days with the Austin Toros (Now the Austin Spurs), and now he's taken his rightful place. A coach and team of this caliber has the ability to make other teams feel stupid for leaving certain players open and wondering how it came to that. Now it falls to the Rockets to fix their defensive system and prevent the best shooter on the opposing team from getting every look he wants.

On the other side of the court, the Rockets only took 37 three pointers. For a team that normally shoots more than 42, this was low, though not alarmingly so. The Jazz clearly would prefer to run the Rockets off the three point arc and see how they fare at the rim against defensive stalwart Rudy Gobert. The answer tonight was "mediocre." At times, James Harden was able to cut them up inside, and Clint Capela was able to finish some fantastic lobs. Unfortunately, shooting 48% from inside the arc is insufficient when shooting 27% from outside of it. The Rockets need at least 44% shooting from beyond the arc to win games. The Jazz are great at defending the arc, but the Rockets also just flat-out missed.

For a while, the Rockets were able to get back into the game, coming back from a 19-point deficit to lead in the third quarter partially on the back of a greater volume of three-point attempts. Unfortunately, as the game closed in, Houston's role players were asked to take some (mostly open) three point looks and were unable to do so. Whether leaving Trevor Ariza, PJ Tucker and Eric Gordon open from deep is good defense is, I suppose, an open question. Tonight, that seemed like a good plan.

Tomorrow, the Rockets hope, it will look foolish. Of course, when the chips are down, that's the Rockets' responsibility. If they can't force those two numbers back to normalcy, the Jazz might just win a weird series.

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