Any thought of the Jazz coming home in good shape against the Houston Rockets was nothing more than wishful thinking.
The recurring nightmare, which started early in Game 1, continued the second time around with one noticeable difference – it was worse. To the point of embarrassment, the Jazz were thoroughly dominated in a 118-98 loss to the Rockets on Wednesday night at the Toyota Center.
“They did what they needed to do and beat us soundly,” said Jazz coach Quin Snyder.
Maybe a change of venue can make a difference. The best-of-seven series comes to Salt Lake City for games 3 and 4 on Saturday and Monday, respectively.
Unfortunately for the Jazz, the location of the game won’t matter much unless this team makes significant improvement. At precisely the wrong time, an entire group of players is collectively performing worse than it has at any point in the season.
“We have to get ourselves going as a group collectively,” said Snyder.
The stars – Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell – are not doing nearly enough. The role players – the likes of Joe Ingles, Jae Crowder and Kyle Korver – are not doing much of anything.
Garbage time came early in this one. Pretty much the final three quarters consisted of running out the clock.
Much like in the series opener, the Rockets started the game strong and the Jazz never got going. The Rockets opened a 20-point lead in the first quarter, shooting 55 percent compared to the Jazz’s 32 percent.
Continuing where they left off in the first game, the Jazz could not buy a three-pointer in the first quarter. After shooting 7 of 27 beyond the line in the opening loss, they made only 1 of 12 in the first quarter in the second game.
“We have to play with more force offensively to get where we want to go,” Snyder said.
Like every team in the NBA, the Jazz faced the quandary of trying to guard James Harden. The game’s most prolific perimeter scorer is virtually impossible to defend with his array of offensive moves.
As expected, the Jazz had no answer for the All-Star guard. Harden scored 25 points in the decisive first half, with an impressive display of drives, mid-range shots and step-back three-pointers.
Harden got anything he wanted, posting a triple-double with 32 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists. He now has 20 assists in the two games.
“When he gets on a roll, nobody’s better,” said Houston coach Mike D’Antoni.
Give Harden and his teammates credit – they are that good, probably better than the team that lost in seven games to the world champion Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals last season. This is a team playing far above the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference.
But the mystery lies with the Jazz, who have now excuse for such poor play. Obviously, the Rockets are the superior team, but not to this extent.
Remember, the Jazz found a way to split the four-game series in the regular season. But in the playoffs, they look completely outclassed in every aspect.
“I know we can do better,” Snyder said.
Perhaps most surprisingly, Mitchell is playing nowhere close to his capability. Through two games, he is shooting 12 of 37 from the field and 4 of 15 on three-pointers.
Knowing the series is only half over, D’Antoni downplayed Mitchell’s struggles.
“Don’t’ get carried away,” D’Antoni said, “Donovan Mitchell is really a good player and you can have a couple of off nights.”
But unless Mitchell and his teammates have some good nights real quick, this series is doomed to end far sooner than all of us expected. The home-court definitely will be put to the test in Game 3 before a sympathetic – but probably restless – crowd.
“Hopefully, we can hit shots,” Snyder said.