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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz were run off the floor Sunday night by the Houston Rockets, and the blowout wasn’t solely the result of a miserable fourth quarter where the Jazz were outscored 39-19.
They were outmatched from the opening tip.
The Jazz took a radical approach to defending last year’s MVP James Harden in Game 1 and stationed his primary defender on his left hip to take away his left hand and nearly unguardable step back 3-point jump shot.
In that sense, the Jazz succeeded; Harden rarely got to his left hand and his step back three wasn’t a mainstay of the Rockets offense. But Harden still led all scorers in the game and finished with 29 points. He added 10 rebounds and eight assists in the win.
Simply put, the Jazz's approach, while aggressive, was ineffective.
On Inside the NBA, TNT’s postgame coverage of Game 1, former players Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith lambasted the Jazz's approach to the league’s leading scorer as overly simplistic toward such a talented offensive player.
Harden’s a pick-your-poison type of offensive performer, and he’s able to adjust his game to whatever a defense throws at him. When Harden was unable to get to the rim, he pulled up for a floater; when the floater was cut off, he threw a lob pass to Clint Capela; when the lob pass was gone, he found open shooters PJ Tucker and Danuel House Jr.
Offensively, the Jazz weren’t any better. Donovan Mitchell limped to an inefficient 19 points on 18 shots; while Joe Ingles, Jae Crowder, Royce O’Neale and Thabo Sefolosha combined to shoot 4-of-24 from the floor, and 3-of-15 from the 3-point line.
Overall, the Jazz shot just 39 percent from the field and 25 percent from the 3-point line. Mitchell failed to find open driving lanes, while all of the Jazz wings failed to find adequate spacing to be impactful. Much like the defensive game plan against Harden, the offensive game plan fell equally short.
But just because the Jazz game plan didn’t work, it doesn't mean the shortcomings were a result of the team’s coaching. This is a roster issue, plain and simple. The Jazz aren’t as talented, or experienced, as the Rockets, and there’s nothing Snyder can do about it between now and Wednesday night’s Game 2 in Houston.
This issue for the Jazz was apparent during last year’s second-round loss to the Rockets when the Jazz were eliminated in five games. Regardless, this past summer the Jazz opted to bring back the majority of its roster. And during February’s trade deadline, the Jazz again opted to stand pat and not strengthen the roster to better compete with the NBA’s best.
While the Jazz have grown internally, they have not taken a large enough step forward to be considered elite.
Now, that’s not to say Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey had a home run trade sitting on his desk that he passed on. In the past, when Lindsey sees a trade he thinks will improve the Jazz, he has pulled the trigger — see his draft night trades for both Mitchell and Gobert.
But the Jazz didn’t make those moves this year and are once again finding little success against a superior Rockets team. The Jazz were rumored to be in deep conversations with the Memphis Grizzlies to acquire point guard Mike Conley but were ultimately unwilling to match the Grizzlies' demands.
The onus now falls on Jazz management — should they again come up short — to relieve the pressure on Snyder by delivering a more talented roster.
The Jazz could have as much as $30 million this summer to spend on free agents and must show they can deliver a high-level name or two competent contributors to help push this roster towards a Western Conference Finals appearance.
The Jazz lost Sunday night’s game to the Rockets in blowout fashion, and the team’s game plan did little to deter Harden’s attack. But this loss wasn’t a result of the team’s game preparation or coaching, it’s a problem with the roster’s overall lack of talent. This offseason, the Jazz will have to address that shortcoming or continue to expect similar results.