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SALT LAKE CITY — At the end, the list of missed opportunities was long.
The Jazz got wide open 3-point looks — and missed them. They got to the free throw line consistently — but missed 13 attempts. They had chances to secure defensive stops down the stretch — and didn’t get crucial rebounds. And they forced James Harden to miss his first 15 shots of the game — and still couldn’t build a double-digit lead.
Utah outplayed Houston on Saturday. The score just didn’t reflect that.
The Rockets beat the Jazz 104-101 in Game 3 at Vivint Arena to take a commanding 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. No team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit.
James Harden’s first bucket came with 7:32 left in the fourth quarter. After what he has done to the Jazz in this series, you would have thought that meant Utah was up big. And the Jazz probably should have been.
Since Game 2’s loss, Utah has talked about the need to be the aggressors. The Jazz were on Saturday. Utah jumped out to a seven-point lead in the first minutes of the game to the approval of the sell-out crowd.
After beating himself for three days for his Game 2 performance, Mitchell responded with 13 points in the opening quarter, including a high-flying alley-oop dunk and a banked in 3-pointer.
And backed by a raucous crowd and a defensive strategy that finally seemed to be causing Harden fits, it looked like the Jazz could put some breathing room between them and the Rockets.
But then the misses came. And never stopped.
The Jazz shot 41.6 percent from the field, 29.3 percent from 3-point range and 65.8 percent from the free throw line.
Those misses made it tough to build a lead. Even with Harden struggling early from the field — he still ended up with 22 points and 10 assists — the Jazz couldn’t pull away.
In the first half, as the Jazz were missing wide open 3-pointer and wide-open 3-pointer, the Rockets role players like Gerald Green, Austin Rivers and Eric Gordon were making contested shots.
And in the third quarter, as the Jazz were getting stop after stop, they were also missing free throw after free throw. That kept the game close throughout and allowed the Rockets to make enough plays down the stretch to steal the game.
“We didn't capitalize as much as we needed to,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said. “Whether it was from the foul line or during a stretch there in the third quarter where I thought we had a chance to build a little bit of a lead.”
Harden didn’t just struggle from the field because he was simply missing, either. The Jazz’s defensive scheme that they have employed since Game 1, finally worked.
“The will,” Ricky Rubio said. “We were playing the same defense, but we were playing with will, aggressive and we were changing shots.”
They pushed him to the right and Rudy Gobert was phenomenal of challenging in the mid-range at the rim.
“I missed two or three of them,” Harden joked at the end of the game.
“Gobert threw a couple of them,” Chris Paul interrupted.
Gobert had seven blocks on the night to go along with 10 points and eight rebounds.
The defensive performance should have been enough for the Jazz to win. The players know it, the coaches know it, heck, even the Rockets know they stole one in Salt Lake City on Saturday.
“We found a way to win,” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We just didn’t play well, we didn’t.”
Harden made three of his last five shots, including a deep 3-pointer in the closing minutes. And his trip to the line, a controversial one at that, with Gobert getting called for a foul when Harden’s hand came down and hit the Jazz center in the face, gave the Rockets a two-possession lead late in the game.
After his stellar first quarter, Mitchell was just 4-for-20 in the final three quarters but still finished with a game-high 34 points. His final miss, though, a 3-pointer with eight seconds remaining, would have tied the game.
But that shot was just the last of many other opportunities the Jazz had to win the game. And that’s why Saturday hurt so bad. They were the better team. They just didn’t get the win.
“I thought we really competed and did a lot of things we set out to do,” Snyder said. “I was proud of how we played and how we completed, we just didn’t get a win tonight to reflect that.”