Houston Rockets, NBA, NBA Playoffs, Utah Jazz

Houston survives brutal shooting night from Harden to go up 3-0 vs Utah

At the end of a first quarter in which his MVP candidate failed to hit a field goal and Utah’s presumptive DPOY finally showed up with four blocks, Houston coach Mike D’Antoni was asked what his team needed to change about their shot selection.


Arrogant? Maybe a little. Correct? Absolutely.

On cue, Gerald Green hit a three to start the second, and despite playing their worst quarter of the postseason this far, Houston had taken the lead. That’s what happens when you’re a team that’s in a special, “holy s—, they might be able to win it all” groove, as the Rockets appear to be.

In what was a close, hard fought, chippy and often ugly game, D’Antoni’s team survived one of the worst shooting nights of James Harden’s career to emerge with a 104-101 victory. It wasn’t pretty, but Houston is now proving it can win in a variety of ways.

They passed their first real test of the playoffs. It certainly won’t be their last.

Utah Jazz


Houston Rockets


James Harden probably can’t play any worse offensively, but he still left an impact. The missed shots started piling up in unnerving fashion, eventually getting to the point where the league’s leading scorer was 0-for-15 from the field. It didn’t matter. Harden was taking the types of shots he’s been hitting all year and they just weren’t going down. That didn’t stop him from playing his game, as he repeatedly dished it to Clint Capela (the recipient of four of his 10 dimes) and got to the foul line 16 times, hitting 14. Throw in his six steals, and the likely MVP runner up finished with a perfectly respectable stat line despite shooting 15 percent from the field. Notably, Rudy Gobert did a better job toeing the line between guarding Harden’s floater and protecting the rim, but it was once again clear that this just isn’t an ideal matchup for the big man.

Houston’s defense, on the other hand, is bordering on scary. Rewind the clock back to December 1. The Rockets were 10-11, sitting with the 28th ranked defense in the league, below the New York Knicks, Phoenix Suns and Atlanta Hawks, among others. They were 12th in the NBA from that point forward. Not coincidentally, defensive coordinator Jeff Bzdelik returned to the team full time in late November, ending his brief retirement and helping right the ship. Now, Houston looks nothing like the turnstile that began the year. They have the second ranked defense in the playoffs, and they have been everywhere when Utah has the ball. Jazz fans will once again point to open looks that were simply missed (including a key Donovan Mitchell one late that would have tied it), but the Rockets’ activity level surely has something to do with that.  Yes, Mitchell finally had a good scoring game, finishing with 34 points, but it took him 27 shots to get there.

Oh yeah, and that CP3 guy? He’s still pretty good. Saturday night was a good reminder that, lost in the background of a truly legendary season from one of the great scorers of all time, there’s a dude who’s pretty awesome in his own right. What a luxury it must be to have an 8-time All-NBA point guard as a “break in case of emergency” option, like Chris Paul was in Game 3. His final stat line – 18 points on 7-of-15 shooting, four dimes, minus six overall – doesn’t begin to express how important he was. When Houston was really feeling Harden’s off night, Paul was there with a key basket seemingly every time it was needed. They would not have won this game without him.

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