HOUSTON — The Jazz had thrown their best punch of the night: a 7-0 run to cut the Houston lead to 17 in the third quarter
James Harden's response: drilling one of his six 3-pointers and then casually waving his hand as if he was dismissing Utah’s paltry comeback attempt.
The Jazz used a different strategy on Harden in Game 2. This one worked just as well as the one in Game 1 — actually, it might have been worse.
Harden had a triple-double of 32 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists and the Jazz will head back to Salt Lake City down 0-2 after proving to be no match for the Rockets and losing 118-98 Wednesday at Toyota Center.
If anyone was wondering why the Jazz were so keen on stopping Harden’s stepback-three on Sunday, Game 2 provided the answer.
Utah played Harden more straight up this time around instead of aggressively pushing hin to his right. That meant the step back was available and Harden used it.
He made five 3-pointers in the first half with most coming via the step back. He burned Royce O’Neale, he fooled Thabo Sefolosha (who also jumped into him on a make) and made Ricky Rubio stumble backward (but Harden at least missed that one).
Harden was simply unguardable.
"He has a lot of weapons," Rubio said. "He can read the game really well and we gave him different looks from Game 1, but still, it’s hard. We are going to keep on looking for ways to stop him and we are not going to quit."
But, once again, Harden wasn't the Jazz's only problem.
Utah Jazz started the game with two consecutive turnovers and those ended up being a precursor to what ended up being a very long night offensively.
The Jazz shot 39.8 percent and were just 8-of-38 from 3-point range. The shots were times the shots were there, they just couldn't knock them down. And when you are playing against one of the best offensive teams ever with the best scorer in the league, those shots need to fall.
Joe Ingles and Jae Crowder were both 1-for-6 from three while Donovan Mitchell was 1-for-8.
"Just keep them motivated," said Derrick Favors who had 14 points and 12 rebounds. "Keep telling them to shoot, keep telling them to be aggressive. Right now, we are just not making shots."
O’Neale and Rubio led the Jazz with 17 points each. Mitchell had just 11 points on 5-of-19 shooting and Rudy Gobert had 11 points and 12 rebounds in the loss.
"To beat that, first you have to score and I think we haven’t done that consistently," Rubio said.
Those offensive struggles also meant that when Harden got cooking it was game over for Utah. And he got cooking almost immediately.
Harden had 17 points in the first quarter and had 27 by halftime, as the Rockets took full command of the game.
Two games into the series, the Jazz’s best defense against him has been hoping that he misses. And Harden, or the Rockets, haven’t missed nearly enough.
Houston shot 47.5 percent as a team and hit 17 3-pointers.
In the third quarter, during one brief moment of Jazz momentum, Rubio bumped Harden after the Rockets shooting guard put a shoulder into him. Rubio was whistled for a foul, but it was one of the few times that the Jazz showed enough fight on Wednesday.
Mitchell was beaten to a loose ball early in the game by Eric Gordon — and then proceeded to foul Gordon as he made a layup. And when the game already well in hand, it was Chris Paul who got on the floor between two Jazz players to gain an extra possession.
Those incidents might be the most telling from Wednesday. The Jazz looked frustrated and beaten. That’s why Harden could stroll down the court after a made shot gesturing that it was all too easy.
Because on Wednesday, it was.