From the start of the Rockets’ 118-98 Game 2 win against the Jazz, it was clear they were going to do what they wanted.
Wednesday’s meeting in Houston was not close following the opening 12 minutes as the home team spent all night knocking down threes and getting to the rim.
Coach Mike D’Antoni isn’t trying to overthink things. And with a likely matchup with the Warriors waiting after this series, it’s important the Rockets are doing what they do best at this point in the season.
The Jazz are certainly making it a bit easier for Houston by letting James Harden drive with his right whenever he pleases, but Houston still has to capitalize. While the Jazz struggled to connect on their open looks from three, the Rockets were lights out from distance going 17-for-42.
All but two of Houston’s points came from behind the arc, in the paint or at the free-throw line. With the exception of a lone Chris Paul elbow jumper, everything the Rockets did came from those three areas they look to control on a nightly basis.
Although Houston got the offense it needed in the ways it expects, it wasn’t all roses and sunshine in Game 2.
The Jazz were able to force plenty of turnovers and had solid ball movement as evidenced by their 27 assists on 39 made field goals. Utah held its own in the second and third quarters, the issue is that the damage was already done.
However, just because a team jumps out to an early lead or has a big lead late, it doesn’t mean the game is over. Earlier on Wednesday the Pacers squandered a 12-point fourth-quarter lead to the Celtics.
And how could anybody forget what the Warriors did Monday night at home?
Yet, unlike their expected second-round opponent, the Rockets didn’t fall asleep at the wheel after racing ahead with plenty of time to spare. Instead, Houston stayed locked in and kept the pressure on the Jazz.
As Harden noted in his postgame interview with TNT’s Allie LaForce, holding Utah below 100 points for a second straight game was key. And while the Rockets’ usually pesky hands certainly played a role in limiting Donovan Mitchell to 11 points and holding the team to an 8-for-38 performance from three, they also got some help from the visitors who just couldn’t get anything to drop.
So as the series shifts to Utah with the Rockets holding a 2-0 advantage, they can see the blood in the water, but understand they still have some things to tighten up so they can continue to play their best ball deeper and deeper into the postseason.
As great as Harden’s 32-13-10 triple double was, Houston can’t expect to win comfortably on a night he and Paul combine for 14 turnovers.
But Wednesday night was one of those nights were the mistakes didn’t matter because the pros so greatly outweighed the cons of their performance. And that’s what happens when you play your game on the offensive end and can feel confident you will score buckets how you want and when you want.
With two more wins, Houston will put itself one step closer to a title and potentially set up a rematch of last year’s Western conference finals. It’s what the Rockets have been waiting for all season.
And with the two-time defending champions looking slightly more vulnerable after their epic collapse and the loss of DeMarcus Cousins, the Rockets can smell a shot at the Finals.
If they continue to do what they do best and fix their few flaws from Wednesday, this might be the year they make the championship run they’ve been plotting on.