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Rockets out-ugly Jazz 104-101

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Utah got the game it wanted, but in the end, it didn’t want them. A list of things gone right for Utah.

Houston Rockets v Utah Jazz - Game Three
Booed after getting tackled. Sometimes reputations are earned.
Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images

If you’re the Utah Jazz, fighting to stay in your first round series with the Houston Rockets you might have a checklist outlining what you’d want to happen in Game 3. To my mind it would look something like this:

(This marks the triumphal return of Bullet Points, The Lazy Man’s Friend(tm).)

  • Key the entire defense on James Harden. Force him into bad shots, turn him into a play maker.

Check. Done.

James Harden had the worst shooting game of his career at one point this evening. It doesn’t mean he had a bad game. Apparently keying an entire defense on you means you aren’t good, though, if it works, according to some.

  • Get key Rockets into foul trouble (early).

Check. Done.

James Harden, Chris Paul and Eric Gordon had five, five and four personal fouls to end the game. Several of Harden’s were notched in the first three minutes of play. Danuel House got three fouls called on him in about thirty seconds.

  • Shade Harden to bother his shooting.

Check. Done.

Harden shot 3-20. Sometimes he missed layup, sometimes he got blocked, sometimes the ball just crawled out, but not until he dunked it in the fourth did he make a field goal. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t aggressive, he was. He shot 16 free throws and maybe two trips didn’t involve hard contact, and Harden getting knocked down.

This game, despite the win, will be used as some sort of test case for James Harden’s moral worth, and the value of extreme and gimmicky defenses.

  • Don’t let Rudy Gobert come out on defense. At all. Park him under the rim. Dare them to call three seconds.

Check. Done.

Gobert is a far better player when he’s used like a medieval siege tower. Tow him into place and let him cause carnage. He did, to the tune of seven blocks. It was an amazing defensive performance.

  • Be physical, all the time. Whine incessantly if called for even the most obvious foul. Like a tackle.

Check. Done.

And done. And done. Joe Ingles is now The Whingeing Wallaby (edited for antipodes), or The Argumentative Aussie, to me. He made early career Chris Paul seem reserved and stately. I kind of liked Joe before tonight.

To be fair, the Rockets whined a ton tonight as well.

Whining was in the air of Salt Lake City.

Utah Jazz players whined. Their crowd whined (my Lord did they whine, as if one of those singing European soccer crowds decided to whine in unison instead).

The Rockets whined. Chris Paul snarked. Eric Gordon looked dumbfounded.

Doris Burke whined about the Rockets getting any calls when she wasn’t outright cheering for Utah.

Quin Snyder threw a hissy fit worthy of a four year old (And it worked! There was a make up call.). Quin’s hair really flopped impressively during his fit.

Mike D’Antoni looked pained and maybe accomplished something? Hard to say.

It was kind of an insufferable game all around. You know how the phoenix is formed out of ashes? A new mythical bird was formed from the cesspit of whining, the majestic Whynah Bird rose into the air, kvetching.

This game could only have been more insufferable with a Rockets loss.

  • Be more physical. Hit Harden every play. Drape yourself over him like a slanket.

Check. Done.

It worked. But Harden did shoot some FTs. I don’t know how the Jazz or their fans can think a defense can be super aggressive, super physical and confrontational, and never be called for a foul. It seems mutually exclusive.

  • Encourage the Jazz to shoot early in the clock.

Check. Done.

The Jazz resembled a watchable NBA offense in the first half. But the fact that there’s really only two shooters on the team cost them in the end.

I wondered if Utah would keep up the aggressive offense, but they fell off their torrid pace in the second half. It’s difficult to both play all out on defense and very fast on offense, especially if you usually run an attritional offense.

  • Whenever a Rocket does something you don’t like, fall down.

Check. Done.

And done. And done by every single Jazz player. This has to be an instruction. Watch the game again if you don’t believe me.

  • Don’t be mean to your date.

Not Done.

Ken Mauer, for three quarters, seemed to love Utah’s passionate embrace of gravity, it’s aversion to all things Rocket. In the fourth quarter, though, Ken seemed like a spurned lover who turns his back on an amour who is not properly grateful for the affection and devotion.

Remember the whining thing above? When you’re getting all the calls (33FT to 16 at one point in the second half) perhaps you shouldn’t complain to refs on every play? They might turn on you.

I imagine a date between Ken Mauer and the Utah Jazz would be like this:

These flowers make me sneeze, Ken. Take them away.

That isn’t the kind of chocolate I like, Kenny. This came from CVS, I can tell.

Is that your car? How old is it?

American bubbles? You know I only like Cliquot.

What is this place? It’s supposed to be Italian, but there’s no red sauce anywhere.

Where are you going? We’re supposed to go to see Kenny G!

Yes, it could lead to disappointment later. When you’re getting gifts, be gracious.

  • Encourage Donovan Mitchell to drive and score.

Check. Done.

I call Mitchell Monta Jr, as he reminds me of the streaky Monta Ellis, a player whose offensive gifts were often wasted in the service of bad decision making and terrible defense.

Donovan Mitchell had some lovely basket attacks, and some nice shots, mostly in the first half. He was Good Monta, then. In the second half, he also was like Monta, in that when shots go in, more must be taken, an endless number more. When allowed to shoot later on, he mostly missed. But!

  • Borrow Kobe Bryant’s Forcefield.

Check. Done.

Mitchell, a gifted player, is absolutely unstoppable when his spins,jumps, up-and-unders and wow, how many steps was that, moves are accompanied by Kobe’s old forcefield of yore and their accompanying free throws of days gone by.

Mitchell notched 34 points on 9-27 shooting (Kobe Approved!) with 17FTs.

  • Make the game an ugly rockfight.

Check. Done.

Rockfights favor lower scoring teams.

Utah should have won this game.

They went through their checklist nearly perfectly. The Rockets couldn’t get out of their own way. James Harden couldn’t hit a shot. The Rockets could never get into a rhythm. The physical play clearly bothered the Rockets.

The Rockets, late in the game, with five fouls on Chris Paul, and then James Harden, adopted a novel, and effective, defensive strategy. Let Utah shoot. Just let them shoot. If you’re nowhere near the shooter, they can’t call a foul. Utah didn’t make these open looks, and that, in all honesty, is their core problem in the playoffs.

This seemed to be Utah’s best punch. It landed. The Rockets didn’t fall down.

3-0

Poll

This was

This poll is closed

  • 16%
    A painful experience.
    (107 votes)
  • 34%
    The ugliest playoff win I can remember.
    (220 votes)
  • 18%
    The quintessence of Jazz Basketball. What fun!
    (116 votes)
  • 16%
    Something that will be treated like a criminal conviction for James Harden.
    (106 votes)
  • 14%
    Dallas is a city in Texas.
    (90 votes)
639 votes total Vote Now