HOUSTON — Jazz coach Quin Snyder went through a few specifics — how his team didn’t get critical rebounds, how it missed opportunities on offense, how it didn’t protect the rim — before he summed it up with one overlying statement: “We didn’t play well, that’s what I’m trying to say. There are a lot of things we need to do better.”
At least the Jazz succeeded in one thing: forcing James Harden to go right. It just didn’t help too much in their quest to win Game 1.
Harden went right — and went right into the paint where he passed it out to open shooters or found Clint Capela for lobs or just scored himself. Harden finished with 29 points, with 17 of those coming in the first half, and 10 assists as the Rockets rolled to a 122-90 win over the Jazz to take 1-0 series lead Sunday at Toyota Center.
“James just adjusts to it, like he does on everything,” Houston head coach Mike D’Antoni said. “They throw something at him and it might get him a little bit and then he figures it out. … That’s why he is so good offensively. It makes me laugh. He’s just so good I don't know what you do.”
The Jazz funneled Harden into Rudy Gobert, but as Harden blasted by the Jazz’s perimeter defenders, it left Gobert with a tough choice: let Harden come all the way to the rim or step up and leave a lob open.
“He can’t be in two places,” Snyder said. “You are going to give something up.”
And that’s why the Jazz find themselves in a 1-0 hole.
But while the 122 points are worrisome. The 90 might be more so.
Early in the fourth quarter, Donovan Mitchell had to put up a contested 3-pointer from 30 feet out — the ball hit the top of the backboard. That wasn’t the only Jazz offensive possession to end in desperation. Outside of mini-rallies to start the second and third quarters, Utah’s offense was mostly stymied by Houston’s relentless switching defense.
Good possessions were few and far between as the Jazz struggled to create space.
“We are not always going to be able to move the ball the way we want and move side to side,” Snyder said. “But more than anything there needs to be more determination to not have empty possessions.”
There were plenty of those for the Jazz on Sunday. Utah shot just 39 percent from the field and was just 7-of-27 from 3-point range.
Gobert led the way with 22 points and 12 rebounds and Ricky Rubio added 15 points and six assists.
Mitchell never truly got going and finished with 19 points on 7-of-18 shooting. Snyder said he got into the paint but didn’t always make the right reads. He had five turnovers and zero assists.
“No assists and five turnovers,” Mitchell said. “That’s huge. Fortunately, it’s one game, gotta learn to from it. You can’t have no assists and five turnovers. I don’t care how many minutes you play or whatever. … You have to look yourself in the mirror and figure out how to adjust.”
Mitchell said that it was those turnovers that stalled a Utah run that had cut a 15-point Houston halftime lead to just five during the third quarter. Houston responded with a 10-0 run and the Jazz never really threatened again.
“We were right there, but you can’t keep giving a team like that opportunities,” Mitchell said.
The Jazz now have two days to make adjustments and try to figure something out heading into Game 2. And there is some good news when it comes to that.
Snyder is now 1-4 in Game 1s as Jazz head coach, but he is 2-2 in Game 2s. And that includes a win over this Rockets team last season.
But Harden remembers that, too.
“It’s only one game. We have to make adjustments and we have to play that much harder and smarter,” Harden said.