Perhaps we shouldn't be all that surprised that the Utah Jazz, after getting stomped in Game 1, gave the Houston Rockets their own sort of beatdown in Wednesday's Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals.
He scored 11 of Utah's first 18 points to push them to a 19-point lead in the second quarter and he kept the three-point barrage going throughout the game connecting with seven of nine overall. After ending the regular season 29-6 - the NBA's best team after the All-Star break - and after dispensing with the Oklahoma City Thunder in six games, we could have seen a big Jazz counterpunch coming.
The notoriously low-key Harden, when told by a reporter that he looked irritated by Utah's defense on Wednesday, said, "I look like that all the time". Utah, doing its best impression of the Rockets, made 15 three-point shots in game two.
As Sports Illustrated shared, the rookie recognized what is at stake even after the Game 2 win on the road, saying, "We've been here before". The Jazz's lead surged to 19 points midway through the second quarter before Harden took over and turned the tide. The Aussie hit three triples in the first quarter as the Jazz jumped out ahead, and then he hit two long-range bombs in the fourth quarter to help seal the deal.
Joe Ingles was simply unbelievable in Game 2, going for a career-high 27 points (7-for-9 from 3-point range). This series is heading back to Utah for Game 3. When the Rockets' second unit labored to build some momentum, Gobert and Favors started converting in the paint as the Jazz repeatedly left the Rockets scrambling defensively to cover the action. Dante Exum played excellent perimeter defense on the league's presumptive MVP; while Harden did score 32 points, he did so on 2 of 10 three-point shooting. Harden scored 32, Chris Paul had 23 and Capela continued his strong showing in these playoffs with 21 points and 11 rebounds.
The Rockets inbounded the ball from the sideline and went right back to Harden, who forced another switch on Mitchell.
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"I was lucky enough to get a few to fall early", the Adelaide-born forward said. Rudy Gobert made one of two free-throw tries before Exum put it out of reach with a dunk.
Meanwhile, Houston shot only 10-of-37 on 3-pointers. Exum also added a bit of a scoring punch, finishing with nine points, four rebounds and one nasty finish in transition. So they made adjustments, especially on the pick and roll.
"Our shots weren't falling tonight, but it was more than that", Houston guard Eric Gordon said.
"I thought Dante's dunk was better than mine", Mitchell said. "We'll take this win, but we got three more (to go)".