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HOUSTON — It was a hard sight at times.
Ricky Rubio or Royce O’Neale or Donovan Mitchell or anyone else trying to shade James Harden right, but often looking more like they were laying out the red carpet for the Houston Rockets star to stroll right into the paint.
The theory behind the gameplan was sound. It was put in place to take away Harden’s stepback 3-pointer — the shot that he has used to make the most triples in the NBA this season. By being on his shoulder and even slightly behind him, it takes that shot away. But Utah's execution opened up plenty of other things.
Like when Harden was free to throw lobs or dished out to teammates in the corner for their own 3-pointers.
So heading into Game 2, there will be adjustments. And adjustments was the big buzzword following Utah’s Game 1 blowout loss to the Rockets on Sunday.
“Honestly, we could have won this game by 90, lost this game by 90, or lost this by one point, a loss is still a loss,” Mitchell said. “It’s not like they get two wins. It’s just making adjustments and not overreacting to what happened. There are a lot of things we can control and that’s what we are looking into.”
One of those things is how they will guard Harden moving forward. The Jazz didn’t keep connected on Harden as he drove and didn’t stop him from getting the ball back to his left hand. For the strategy to work, they have to be better at staying close to Harden.
And they think they will be.
“It’s not just one game,” Rubio said. “It’s a whole series. We have to make it tough for one of the best players in the league and he’s a great scorer. We have to get to know the game plan better. I think as the series goes on, we are going to get better, we are going to make adjustments, we are going to do this and that. We have one of, if not, the best coach in making adjustments.”
What those adjustments will exactly look like remains to be seen, but the Jazz seem set on taking away Harden’s signature move.
“It’s something that we have seen other teams doing and it works in some occasions and some not,” Rubio said of shading Harden right. “We just have to stick with it. Of course, we are going to make adjustments, but we can’t just give up what we think and what we believe.
“We are sharing him right because left he has the step back and it’s a three every time,” he continued. “No matter who is on him, step back from three.”
The math is simple: three is greater than two. Rubio actually said that the strategy worked a bit on Sunday, as Harden needed 26 shots to reach 29 points and the Jazz kept him mostly off the free throw line. Harden had just three free throw attempts in the game.
But with how things went on Sunday, it would be hard to convince many people that it was a rousing success. That doesn't mean, though, that it won't be in the coming games.
“I think in the second half we did a better job and in Game 2, we are going to do a better job,” Rubio said. “We have to learn, we have to watch film, we are going to adjust.”