Rockets 104, Jazz 101 - The Slog

By Forrest Walker on April 20, 2019

It wasn't a surprise that game three would be the hardest one yet for the Houston Rockets. The Utah Jazz came into the evening down 0-2 in their first round series, finally hosting a game in Salt Lake City and absolutely desperate to get a win. The crowd can be counted on to have their backs, the energy is high, and being down 1-2 is infinitely better than 0-3. The Rockets were always going to have to work for this win. They simply had no idea how brutal of a slog it would prove to be. In one of the most hard-fought games of the entire season for the Rockets, they somehow survived this grueling game and came away with a tremendous win in Utah, almost certainly closing the door on the Jazz.

The third quarter took over fifty real-life minutes. By the end of it, the Jazz had shot 36 free throws, one for every minute of the game. Houston, meanwhile, had shot 24. A number which would easily dwarf the opposition on most nights. From the first moment, it was a brutal, confusing affair in which the laws of probability and aesthetics seemed to have no interest in attendance. Most notably, It took James Harden sixteen field goal attempts to make his first shot, a vicious dunk that helped kick off Houston's final surge. Despite this horrid shooting and overall shakiness from James Harden, despite a Rockets team that looked like they were celebrating 4/20 one way or another, and despite a Rudy Gobert who seemed able to block literally every shot, it was still a win.

Donovan Mitchell finally had the game the Jazz had been hoping for. He scored 34 points on 27 shots to go with 6 rebounds and 5 assists, as excellent a night as he's had. Favors and Gobert prowled on defense and Houston's ability at the rim was severely curtailed. The Rockets weren't the humming offense they'd been in Houston and in fact the game largely devolved into a defensive slugfest. For a defense-first team like Utah, both teams failing to score for multiple minutes late in the game is likely as close to a perfect scenario for them as they're likely to see. It was, however, not good enough.

As the curtains closed on this game and likely Utah's season, it's hard not to wonder what more could have broken their way. The Jazz continued to shoot under 30% from three point range, but that pales in comparison to how much more the Rockets looked trapped in quicksand. They shot a miserable 39.3% from the field, a number which actually improved late in the game. Throughout the evening, it was a wonder that Utah didn't lead by double digits, and a testament that the Rockets stuck to their hip until they were able to strike.

As the finals minutes ticked off the clock and the Jazz failed to capitalize of a missed Tucker free throw and an open Donovan Mitchell on the sideline, the story then was the same as it had been all evening. Even with the Rockets slowed and battered, even with a tailwind finally propelling them, the Rockets were still able to steal a win and almost certainly seal a series as well. While the Jazz get at least one more crack at it, it's hard to imagine how much better a game could go for them. Their sole hope, at this point, would seem to be complacency or indifference from a Rockets team that surely knows that nobody has ever returned from a 0-3 hole in NBA history to win a series. This game was as nasty a slog as the Rockets will likely ever see, and they come away from it up one more game. They get a chance to slam the door shut on Monday, and nobody should be the least bit surprised if they take it.

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