The Jazz had develop into a stylish upset decide however the Rockets made clear in Recreation 1 that they’ll have their work reduce out for them.
The best draw back of the primary spherical of those NBA playoffs is that certainly one of Houston or Utah – the 2 most dominant groups in the whole league because the All-Star break — will bow out earlier than the festivities actually warmth up. Each the Jazz and Rockets mounted spectacular second-half turnarounds this season as Houston rode James Harden to the fourth seed whereas Utah coalesced in time to safe the fifth. This sequence might be an enchanting examine in contrasts. The 2 groups’ strengths stand in direct opposition to 1 one other — protection for the Jazz, offense for the Rockets — and the golf equipment function vastly totally different personnel. Both may make the Western Convention Finals, supplied they will escape essentially the most high-powered first-round sequence within the bracket.
If Sunday night time was any indication, the Rockets determine to have a reasonably vital higher hand. James Harden diced up Utah’s protection with an easy 29 factors and 10 assists whereas his supporting solid complemented him in backbreaking style. In the meantime, each possession was a slog for Utah, who turned the ball over 18 occasions and managed beneath 0.9 factors per possession for the sport. Houston is a very dangerous matchup for the Jazz — significantly Rudy Gobert — and practically all of Utah’s weaknesses got here to the fore on Sunday night time. Right here’s what stood out in a simple Rockets win:
The Jazz tried to duplicate Milwaukee’s defensive technique on James Harden, however failed. Harden is as singular a scoring expertise because the NBA has. He warps gameplans and defenses, continually making use of strain to and drawing consideration from all 5 defenders on the ground. His stepback Three is an unguardable weapon, but his driving capability is simply as deadly. The remainder of the NBA has spent the whole season trying to find methods to account for him, and few have been significantly efficient. Defensive success is relative towards Harden, who has seen each scheme and gimmick within the e-book.
Maybe the simplest method any group has employed was the Bucks’ tactic of sitting on Harden’s left hip and forcing him proper, with a purpose to place themselves to defend the stepback Three and usher him towards Brook Lopez as the remainder of Milwaukee’s rangy personnel closed off passing lanes. The Jazz tried to mimic that on Sunday night time, however with out the size and athleticism to correctly execute the scheme, struggled to include Harden’s drives. Relatively than actively stopping Harden from going left, the Jazz merely ushered him proper. The MVP candidate met little resistance as he waltzed handed his main defender and into the lane, the place he did just about no matter he happy. Whereas Harden himself took 26 photographs to attain his 29 factors and solely shot three free throws, he repeatedly bent the Jazz off form. Utah’s assist defenders had been a contact too aggressive all recreation lengthy, and Harden took benefit. Most frequently, he drew assist from Rudy Gobert, which required a rotation from the weak-side nook to cowl Gobert’s man, surrendering nook Three after open nook 3:
If the second rotation didn’t arrive, Harden lobbed alley-oops to Clint Capela. When Gobert stayed residence, he lofted gentle floaters over the large man’s outstretched arms. And, on the uncommon situations Harden didn’t penetrate the primary line of Utah’s protection, he rained backbreaking stepback triples over powerless defenders. Such are the impossibilities of defending Harden. On his greatest nights, no alternative is a viable one. If you make life straightforward for him, because the Jazz did, it erases practically all hope.
Utah’s lack of offensive creators brought on its offense to stall. The distinction in these two groups’ offensive kinds is dictated by a drastic distinction in personnel. Whereas Houston touts two of the best passers isolation scorers in NBA historical past, the Jazz are likely to work by committee. Donovan Mitchell possesses among the capabilities of an offensive linchpin however doesn’t rating effectively sufficient to anchor an offense on his personal. Utah surrounds him with a solid of gamers that complement each other and assist raise among the burden from Mitchell’s shoulders. Quin Snyder runs lovely and sophisticated actions that give his gamers built-in benefits. The Jazz will station Derrick Favors in simply the best spots to benefit from an inattentive defender or set Joe Ingles as much as assault in second-side pick-and-rolls with a head of steam. They transfer the ball from station to station till a gap kinds, then assault it within the applicable method.
However towards engaged playoff defenses, its lack of playmaking and particular person creators manifests within the ugliest methods. Houston, for essentially the most half, shut off Mitchell’s driving lanes, forcing him right into a 7-of-18, 5-turnover night time. They denied Ingles the spots and conditions by which he’s most comfy whereas difficult Jae Crowder, Royce O’Neale and Thabo Sefolosha right into a mixed 3-of-19 capturing. Gobert had 22 factors on simply 9 photographs, however Houston was greater than prepared to concede his photographs on the rim if it meant taking away Utah’s playmakers. The Jazz merely didn’t have anybody able to persistently breaking down his man and conjuring open seems to be. No matter fissures may need fashioned in Houston’s protection couldn’t be reliably attacked.
The Jazz know they want their offense to operate as a unit to win, and can undoubtedly seek for methods to include Ingles, Mitchell and Kyle Korver extra easily in Recreation 2.
Chris Paul didn’t look fairly himself. Whether or not by alternative or by bodily necessity, Paul seemed the slightest bit tentative in Recreation 1. There have been flashes of classic Paul — slick passes to roll males, sharp kickouts to shooters and sly strikes within the pick-and-roll — however he wasn’t practically as aggressive as he was in final yr’s second-round sequence towards Utah. He didn’t assault Gobert as relentlessly or hunt down his pet photographs from the midrange as eagerly, and uncharacteristically dedicated 4 of the Rockets’ 10 turnovers. Within the first half, Paul confirmed little curiosity in capturing on the basket, opting as a substitute to arrange teammates for 3s or dunks. That would all be by design — in any case, Paul is without doubt one of the greatest gamers in NBA historical past at creating environment friendly photographs for others. But when Harden has a down recreation or Utah modifications its defensive gameplan in some unspecified time in the future within the sequence, Houston will want Paul to claim himself a bit extra on offense.