The playoffs are such a weird animal.
We now live in the era of “What have you done for me lately?” So every game gets over-analyzed to the extreme. After a team wins a playoff game, it becomes impossible to see them losing again. They’re riding sky high and have just defeated the team they are about to play again. Conversely, after a loss a team is described as “broken” or “trash” in all corners of the internet.
If you think that every game in this series will be similar to Game 1 or 2, you are kidding yourself. The Jazz opened as 3-point favorites in Game 3 because home court matters a lot and Utah’s home court matters even more.
In last year’s first round series, the Rockets beat the Timberwolves in Game 1 on the back of a vintage fourth quarter James Harden performance and then won Game 2 by 20 after pulling away early in the game. Houston looked unbeatable and the sweep was on.
Then Houston went to Minnesota and lost by 16. Everything went wrong and suddenly it seemed like the series was destined for six or seven games. It ended comfortably in five games.
I guess if you take anything from this, it should be that you cannot use the most recent game to forecast the outcome of a series. Houston was supposed to sweep. Then the series was supposed to go the distance. Then it didn’t. When every game is the most important game (as it is in the playoffs), things can swing back and forth up to six times in a series. After Utah beat Houston in Game 2 last year, that series appeared to be headed for six games at least. After Golden State blew out Houston in Game 3, the Rockets were going to be lucky if the series got past Game 5. None of those prognostications played out that way.
The Rockets will clearly be ready for Game 3, as will the Jazz. Expect this game to be physical and for the Vivint Smart Home Arena (that arena needs a better name) crowd to be explosive. Houston has only lost once in Salt Lake City over the last two years, and they have won most of those games on the backs of big early runs that took the crowd out of the game. If Houston allows the Jazz to hang around late into the game, or if Utah leads and early and Houston has to play catch-up, Utah could get all the juice they need from a crowd desperate to see a win over the rival Rockets. Of course, then we’ll get stories about how the Jazz “have figured out the Rockets.” The spin cycle lives on in perpetuity during the postseason.
Young players usually get a huge boost at home during the playoffs, so expect an extra gear from Donovan Mitchell and Royce O’Neale, along with Georges Niang and Grayson Allen (if the latter two get minutes tonight).
They say a series doesn’t start until the road team wins a game. Houston will look to start this series tonight so that they can finish it quickly.
Prediction: Jazz use boost from home court to take Game 3
Tip-off is at 9:30pm CT on ESPN