Defense keeps Jazz alive against Rockets
It took until they reached brink of elimination, but the Utah Jazz may have finally figured out how to effectively defend against the Houston Rockets.
Utah needs the late success it found in Game 4 to continue if it hopes to remain alive with a win in Game 5 on Wednesday night in Houston.
The Jazz trailed entering the fourth quarter Monday in Salt Lake City, but the Rockets missed their final 13 3-point attempts as Utah avoided the first-round sweep with a 107-91 win.
"Physicality," Jazz center Rudy Gobert said when asked what fueled the improved defensive effort. "The first two games in Houston we started the games pretty soft, and that's not who we are. The fact that we lost the first two games, we had a reaction of pride, and we came out ready. Game 3 we were ready, (Game 4) we were ready, and Game 5 we're going to be ready."
Utah has shown steady improvement against James Harden and the high-octane Houston offense.
The Rockets shot 50.5 percent from the field while cruising to a 122-90 win in the opener. In Game 2, Houston shot 47.5 percent in a 118-98 win.
As the series relocated to Salt Lake City, the Jazz reclaimed their defensive identity, holding Houston to 38.4 percent shooting in Game 3 (a 104-101 Rockets win) and a 35.4 percent clip on Monday.
The Rockets, perhaps justifiably, could point to the fact that 0-for-13 shooting from deep has as much to do with their own wayward marksmanship as anything the Jazz did defensively.
But Utah can definitely argue that it has made life increasingly difficult for Harden. And when they stood just 12 minutes away from their season concluding, the Jazz found an internal spark.
"You can always control how hard you compete," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. "We were able to continue to compete. I thought the third quarter, we didn't start well and the beginning of the fourth, obviously, we started very well, and then we had guys step up and make plays on both ends of the floor."
Now the onus rests on the Rockets to fashion a counter to the adjustments Utah made at home.
Gobert and Derrick Favors have skillfully protected the rim and thwarted Harden repeatedly. For all the derision the Jazz faced regarding how they defended Harden in Games 1 and 2, their determination and willingness to adapt to changing strategies have served them well.
The Rockets realize that not only must they discover new means to unlock Harden, they also need to dig deep into their emotional reserves to match the fight Utah brought to the table.
Coincidentally, mustering the defensive might that Utah relied upon at home could work equally well for the Rockets in Houston. For all of their offensive weaponry, when the Rockets thrive, they do so by playing unparalleled defense, even against opponents with glittering defensive reputations.
"The way we won most of the other games was imposing our defense," Rockets guard Chris Paul said. "We were able to get stops on demand, and we didn't do that (in Game 4)."
--Field Level Media
Updated April 23, 2019