Van Gundy blames starters, reserves and himself in Rockets' loss

Van Gundy blames starters, reserves and himself in Rockets' loss

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By DOUG ALDEN AP Sports Writer

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy didn't attempt to find anything positive about the Rockets' performance in Game 3 of their playoff series against Utah.

It was bad -- no getting around it.

The Jazz beat the Rockets 81-67 on Thursday night to pull within 2-1 in the best-of-7 series, holding Houston to its lowest scoring total ever in a playoff game. Only four Rockets scored.

"Our starters were awful. They were awful. So was the bench and so was the coaching. Put us all in there," Van Gundy said after a long team meeting and film session Friday.

Game 4 is Saturday. After soundly winning the first two games of the series, a 2-2 tie would be very disheartening for the Rockets as they head back for Houston for Game 5.

Houston also led 2-0 against Dallas two years ago and ended up losing the series.

"We have to play better. Our mentality has to be better. I have to coach better. That was as poorly prepared to play a Game 3 as you could have a team," Van Gundy said.

Houston's reserves were completely shut out, leaving Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming to handle most of the scoring. That's not unusual, but T-Mac and Yao generally get a little help.

McGrady said the lack of scoring from most of his teammates was obvious and he didn't need to pull anybody aside to talk about it.

"I'm sure a couple of those guys know. When they looked at the stat sheet, there was a big zero there," McGrady said. "I didn't say anything to them."

It's also apparent to the Jazz that they still trail in the series and a loss Saturday would overshadow their Game 3 dominance. The Rockets set a team low for playoff points Thursday and barely avoided setting new lows for shooting percentage and points in a half.

Houston scored 10 points in the third quarter and 15 in the fourth. And after re-watching the game on video, Van Gundy said there was nothing that could explain the way the Rockets played.

"It's not what they thought," Van Gundy said. "Everybody said after the game, 'We did good things on defense.' No. 'We played hard.' No. 'We just missed shots.' No."

The game plan for the Jazz was to keep the 7-foot-6 Yao from getting the ball anywhere near the basket and force him to take jump shots. When he drove, the plan was to foul him and send him to the free throw line.

Yao finished with 26 points on 6 of 14 shooting. He hit 14-of-16 foul shots.

"Our defense was great last night from start to finish," Utah's Deron Williams said. "We were rotating a lot harder and we were helping each other out a lot more. When you do that it's a lot more effective."

Mehmet Okur has handled the defensive duties on Yao and despite giving up seven inches, he tangled up Yao most of the night and kept him away from the basket. The smothering defense was enough to impress even Sloan, who is constantly repeating the importance of defense and working hard.

Okur showed more emotion than usual and was asked if he had developed a "mean streak," which drew a laugh from some teammates who can't see the mild-mannered Turk as anything but benign.

"I don't think Memo has got any meanness in him. I think he tried to do the best he can," Sloan said. "He knows he's at a disadvantage to start with."

The win Thursday was the first in the playoffs for about half of the Jazz. Sloan said the team seems to be getting his message about how much harder they need to work to win in the postseason.

"Those guys haven't been in a playoff game before," Sloan said. "You may surprise yourself a lot of times when you play hard."

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) APTV-04-27-07 1712MDT

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