Back at the beginning of the playoffs, TDS made their predictions for the Houston Rockets vs. Utah Jazz series, and the vast majority of the writers took Houston in six games (the readers took Houston in five). With the Rockets coming off of their second straight blowout in Game 2, winning the first two games by a combined 52 points, it’s easy to see how this series could wind up instead being a sweep.
James Harden is cruising and is currently averaging a triple double for the series, despite shooting just 8 free throws in the first two games combined. Eric Gordon and Austin Rivers have been doing a number on Donovan Mitchell, holding Utah’s leading scorer to just 15 points per game on 32 percent shooting, and no one on the Rockets is averaging more than 33 minutes per contest. For a Mike D’Antoni playoff squad, those low minutes might the most impressive stat of all.
It’s gone better than expected for the Rockets no matter which way you slice it, and at the moment, it appears Utah simply doesn’t have the firepower to keep up.
But the most important part of all of this to remember, and hopefully the Rockets do too, is that they’ve really done nothing yet except for hold serve on home court advantage, and the first game heading onto an opponent’s home court is often a trap game.
For example, the last two seasons in a row, in the first round of the playoffs, the Rockets lost a Game 3 on the road after winning the first two at home. Last season, it was against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the year before against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Now, thankfully, the Rockets were able to wash off the loss pretty quickly in both cases and go on to win the series in five, but that’s not always the case.
Back in the 2007 playoffs, the Rockets took on the Jazz in another four versus five seed matchup in which the Rockets won the first two games of the series at home to head into Salt Lake City with supreme confidence, only to lose Game 3 by double digit points. That loss started a freefall that saw Houston eventually lose to the Jazz in seven games.
It also happened in a 2005 series against the Dallas Mavericks, another time that the Rockets won the first two games only to lose the third and eventually the whole series. Though it is important to note that the first two games were won on the road and not at home.
Historically, Game 3s have always been a tough go after winning the first two, and it’s important for the Rockets to maintain focus. This year’s squad is one that’s had issues with consistency all year, blowing several double-digit leads and suffering a few ugly losses to inferior teams. You’d like to see them step on Utah’s necks and not give them even the faintest sliver of hope.
Because while this series currently looks non-competitive, this is still the NBA, and the Jazz are a very good team, especially defensively. A 3-0 lead pretty much ends this thing for all intents and purposes, while NBA history has shown that 2-1 is an entirely different ball game.