The Utah Jazz have the blueprint now.
Against the Thunder, Utah stole Game 2, then won all three homes games on the way to a first round “upset.” If they pull off the double against Houston, you can remove the mocking quotations marks and call it a real upset.
The Houston Rockets have their work cut out for them. The
Delta Center Energy Solutions Arena Vivint Smart Home Arena is going to be bumping as the raucous Jazz fans know the score here. Sure, Utah can win in Houston and proved so on Wednesday. Utah got all the looks they wanted on Wednesday and everyone shot well except Donovan Mitchell. If you’re a Jazz fan, you have to feel like Game 2 can be replicated and that Houston is wounded. Their path is clear now: win at home and they’re heading to the Western Conference Finals. That’s a scenario no one thought would be possible nine months ago when Gordon Hayward left the Jazz for greener pastures in Boston.
This is a terrifying situation that Houston didn’t see themselves in when the postseason started. Despite 65 regular season wins, they stand teetering on the precipice of a collapse that will ignite all the hot takes that have dogged members of the Rockets organization for years:
- Daryl Morey’s system of treating players as numbers and assets doesn’t work. It doesn’t build chemistry and will never lead to real postseason success. The Chris Paul trade is just the latest in a long line of acquisitions that have only made Houston marginally better.
- Mike D’Antoni is a regular season coach. That’s all he’ll ever be.
- James Harden is a choker that cannot succeed when the games matter.
- Chris Paul can’t even get to the Conference Finals. He’s washed.
Get ready, because if Houston loses both Game 3 and Game 4, you’re going to be hearing those takes a lot.
I hope Houston comes out pissed off. I hope they step on the gas and never let up. They are too good to fall away in the second round. Their effort for most of Game 2 was atrocious. In the regular season, Houston got away with playing hard for 15 minutes and cruising to wins. That won’t fly anymore. It’s 48 minutes or it’s nothing. As I mentioned in the Game 2 preview, everything for Houston revolves around their defense. The Rockets scored 108 points, which would have been enough to win every game Houston won since March 20.
I know it’s difficult to believe, but giving up lots of points and allowing your opponents to shoot well is a losing strategy in the NBA. It says a lot that Houston went 8-8 during the regular season when their opponents shot 50% or better. For example, Utah went 6-13 in such games. Still, Houston has the firepower to outscore opponents even when their defense isn’t completely there. However, there are some magic numbers: when Houston’s opponent shot 50% or better and Houston shot under 46%, the Rockets were 0-6 in the regular season. In Game 1, the Jazz shot exactly 50% and Houston shot 45%, but won on the back of their 3-point shooting. On Wednesday, Utah shot 52% and Houston shot...40%. (Insert the ding ding ding sound effect here.)
This isn’t Game 7. But for the first time since Game 6 against the San Antonio Spurs last season, it kind of feels like it. Utah has a blueprint and homecourt advantage. Now Houston has to take it back.
Tip-off is at 9:30pm CT on ESPN