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SALT LAKE CITY — Donovan Mitchell thought he had misheard. Or at least he hoped he misheard.
“They had how many?” Mitchell asked back.
He had heard right — the Rockets shot 49 free throws on Monday.
It’s hard to win a game when you foul that much. And fouling was just one of Utah’s many mistakes in a 126-117 loss to the short-handed Houston Rockets on Monday at Vivint Arena.
It was last year’s playoff series loss to the Rockets that forced the Utah Jazz to make some big changes.
In that five-game series, Utah shot 26% from 3-point range, and it was determined that in order to beat the elite teams, the Jazz needed more shooting. So how did the Jazz do in their first meeting with the Rockets since that series?
For much of the game, it felt like a repeat. The Jazz started the game 4 of 26 from the 3-point line, the Rockets went on a parade to the free-throw line (even without James Harden in the lineup), and by the end, the Jazz were walking away with a loss.
The Jazz dropped to 32-14 on the season.
Utah came into the game shooting nearly 39% from 3-point range (best in the league) and has had the top offense in the NBA for the last six weeks. The Rockets were without Harden, Clint Capella and Russell Westbrook and on the second game of a back-to-back. Everything pointed to a Jazz victory.
Everything, that is, but the game.
“I think there’s plenty of examples of short-handed teams playing well and winning,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said before the game.
Add another one to the list.
Eric Gordon scored 50 points, proving he was more than capable of picking up the scoring load with Harden and Westbrook out.
On the first possession of the second half, the Jazz went under a screen, allowing Gordon to walk into what was essentially a warm-up triple. He predictably buried it.
Gordon had already scored 24 points in the first half — so he was probably not the guy you wanted to give an open look to on Monday.
Gordon was 14 of 22 from the field, 6 of 11 from the 3-point line and 16 of 20 from the free-throw line.
It was part of a confusing night for the Jazz.
They had sequences of shockingly bad on-ball turnovers. Mike Conley finished with five turnovers with Mitchell, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Joe Ingles each finishing with three each.
“I mean, they weren't forced,” said Conley, who scored 10 points. “You see something and tried to go too quick or slip. I mean just random things happening, but that's not like me, it's not like Don, it's not like a lot of guys to just have so many unforced turnovers, so that definitely was a big factor.”
Utah also was never able to take advantage of Rudy Gobert’s massive size advantage down low. Gobert had 12 points on only five shot attempts and the Jazz had just two offensive rebounds the entire game.
And there were poor defensive decisions, leading to plenty of fouls and plenty of open looks.
“We just had a lot of a lot of mistakes that were in many cases mental,” Snyder said. “We weren't as focused and dialed in on all the details in the game.”
The Jazz wouldn't say it, but that might have had to do with playing the first game since the death of Kobe Bryant. Or it might have just been one of those games.
“I don't know that there's a whole lot that we did well tonight,” Snyder said.
Mitchell scored 36 points on 14-of-25 shooting and Bogdanovic added 30 — including hitting six 3s in the second half to try and keep the Jazz connected. But even a second half where Utah scored 71 points wasn’t enough to overcome the miscues.
“We have games like this,” Mitchell said. “Where I'm at now, and I think where we are right now, it’s how do we respond from this? You can sit here and dwell on it, we can reflect on the games we played well, but it's how you respond from this? We haven't had a game like this in a very long time, you know, and it's a matter of how to respond and that's what I think we're already looking forward to.”