Much of the story over the last few days has been about Utah’s decision to utilize Milwaukee’s defense on James Harden.
On the surface, the decision was somewhat successful. Harden shot 11-26 from the field and only got took three free throws. If you’re Utah, there are a few areas to improve. You can close out better on the shooters to curtail Harden’s assist numbers and you can try to keep Harden’s three point attempts down (he took 10 in Game 1). If those things break Utah’s way, and if the Jazz hit open threes and get a spark from their bench, this series might be tied heading back to Salt Lake City.
Or at least, that’s the narrative to which the Jazz will cling. However, there’s an important piece of information lost in the shuffle.
The Rockets didn’t actually play particularly well in Game 1.
First, if you remove Houston’s hot-shooting fourth quarter, the Rockets shot only 10-31 (32%) from deep. Houston missed several wide open threes throughout that game, including Danuel House Jr. who didn’t really get going until the second half.
Second, Harden shot especially poorly on floaters in Game 1. He missed all six of his floaters. Obviously, part of that is due to the presence of Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors in the paint, but Harden has made floaters over everyone in the regular season and can certainly make them in Game 2. If James gets a few to drop, it’s only going to put more pressure on Gobert to step up and take it away, which will free up lobs to Clint Capela, which will in turn lead to more open looks from deep for Houston’s shooters.
Finally, the Jazz crushed Houston in the free throw shooting department. Houston only took 12 while the Jazz got to the line 27 times. As we know, that means they are a cancer to the game of basketball and are not fun to watch. Sorry, I don’t make the rules, but I have to point them out at every opportunity. The teams each fouled 20 times, but the Jazz got a couple of three-shot free throws.
So while everything will be about the adjustments that Utah can and will make to tighten the screws on the Rockets, it’s important to realize that Houston has chess moves of their own to make.
Houston won Game 1 in a rout last year, too, before a big misstep in Game 2. At least three different Rockets have mentioned the Game 2 loss now, so you can bet that the good guys aren’t going to let up just because they won Game 1 by a bunch of points.
Prediction: Jazz take Game 2
Tip-off is at 8:30pm CT on TNT