SALT LAKE CITY – Everyone knows the Houston Rockets commitment to math: prioritizing lay-ups, free-throws, and 3-pointers over all other attitudes, especially those in the middle class. And after Game 3 on Friday, when James Harden and Chris Paul sat together, they were asked if the Rockets had untypically taken 28 from the middle class.
"Probably about 20 of them were mine," joked Paul. 19659002] Throughout the season, Paul was self-confident and often ironic about one of the strengths of his game, which did not fit the core philosophy of his new team.
Harden interjected, "As you should," obviously not joking. He had something to say. "That's a layup for him."
And in Game 4, as the Utah Jazz gradually tried to spy on and eliminate Houston's drive-and-kick actions, the Rockets scored poorly (1
"Every rule has one exception," said Mike D & # 39; Antoni on Friday. "If you're good at something, even people like 'yes, it works,' because the numbers are right, if you're normal, it would not work, that's one of the reasons I'm safe, the organization Chris has a lot of different reasons, but that's definitely a bonus. "
There were a lot of pre-season questions about how Paul would fit alongside Harden on whether two players could co-exist as ball dominant. D & # 39; Antoni did much of it by cleverly dividing their playing time with staggered spins, but their joint success, especially in Game 4, came because they're just stinking good.
D & # 39; Antoni said he would never play poker really doubted that Paul and Harden could work together, noting that his belief stemmed from the fact that it was the two who decided to play together. The decision was made by them to make it work, and it came before they even played a game together. And with the way Harden was talking about Game 3, it was like making sure Paul understood what the Rockets needed him to do. Offensive can be difficult in the log of a playoff series, and sometimes you just need someone to get a bucket.
This simple basketball principle was evident throughout Game 4, as the Rockets were only steadily produced as jazz, were forced to grind ownership through possessions. What the jazz in Game 3 desperately needed and for most of Game 4 was Donovan Mitchell to get started. He has been asked to do much more than any novice in a playoff series, but jazz is in a position where Mitchell must wear it. The Rockets are dug in defensively and eliminate a lot of the side-to-side ball movement "Blender" plays the jazz-abused teams throughout the season. The Casual Catch-and-Shoot 3s are just not there. So it's up to Mitchell to assert himself, and with a binge late in the first half, he finally did.
These sparks were fleeting, with another coming in the fourth, but it was never sustainable. It always felt like the Rockets were much closer to opening the game than the jazz that really came back. Any pressure Utah made was dramatic – a 5-0 run in the second quarter made the building tremble – but the Rockets scored with ease and efficiency that jazz could not make any real dent. 19659002] There was another jazz mini-run in the third – one Joe Ingles 3, then an Ingles Runner, then a Gobert Dunk – but there were five quick points from Eric Gordon, a Clint Capela Dunk, after both teams left, scored two minutes scoreless, and a Paul free-throw jumper.
Utah cut it to 85-80 with 5:58 to the left, but again, five points felt like 50. Capela put his own miss back, Trevor Ariza hit home a corner 3 and Paul cashed in from the middle class to answer an ingles layup.
That's so much of this series in a nutshell; The Rockets score effortlessly and carefree, never have to worry too much about where and how it will come from, while jazz had to grind five points in a minute. What worked so well for Utah in Game 2 was a quick flaw in the Houston pick-and-roll help that allowed Gobert some dunks to rocket poorly at 3 and that Ingles and Jae Crowder fought some hard Jumpers Met
The Jazz tried to play with more power and opened the game with a wealth of energy and emotions. But it took her almost four minutes to get her first bucket. The Rockets have the options A, B, and C, each varying its degrees of necessity. They hit the jazz in waves and never felt threatened by the feathery haymakers Utah threw. This is an educated, intelligent veteran team that knows what it does and knows how to win games.
And with Paul now a game away from checking the box for something he had been hanging over his entire career – a trip to the conference finale – he has strayed a bit off the plan and done what was needed. And since the Rockets produced better hits from better players regardless of their location, the math would eventually sort out.