The Houston Rockets won Game 3 against the Utah Jazz, despite not playing their best game. Here are three takeaways from their pivotal victory.
The Houston Rockets started just 11-14 this season, and a lot of people prematurely wrote them off as a team who’s championship window had closed. However, the Rockets finished the season 42-15, winning 20 of their final 25 games.
Even after their recent success, some seem to still believe that Houston’s best days ended after they lost in the Western Conference Finals last season. But clearly, this team has taken a step forward.
The Rockets proved that they mean serious business on Saturday night. They didn’t play their best game, but with defense and a fourth quarter surge from James Harden, they were able to take a two possession in the last seconds of the fourth quarter and win 104-101.
It wasn’t a pretty game for the Rockets, but they won a pivotal Game 3 nonetheless. Here are three takeaways from Houston’s Game 3 win.
Next: No. 3
3. James Harden is human
James Harden has been superhuman all season. He scored at least 30 points against every opposing team in the league and he dropped at least 30 in 32 consecutive games. He averaged a league-leading 36.1 points per game this season, the highest average in a season in over 30 years.
However, Harden didn’t look like the same player on Saturday. He started the game 0-15, the most misses without a make for any player in NBA postseason history. He finished the game shooting just 3-20 from the floor, tied with Vince Carter and Paul Pierce for the third worst shooting performance in postseason history. Harden also struggled with foul trouble throughout the entire game and looked completely out of rhythm.
However, Harden somehow still led his team in scoring with 22 points. He also dished out 10 assists and played the passing lanes well, coming up with 6 steals.
The reigning MVP has put up video game numbers all season, but he isn’t immune to an occasional off night. The Beard is human after all, he just puts up superhuman scoring numbers.
Next: No. 2
2. The Rockets can win on the road even when they don’t play well
This was one of those ugly playoff games that championship teams eventually figure out a way to win.
The Rockets were in Utah, playing in a gym with one of the loudest crowds in the league. The Jazz played with desperation in a must-win Game 3. Houston’s best player, James Harden, didn’t make his first field goal until the fourth quarter. The Rockets shot just 67.6 percent from the free throw line, blowing opportunities at easy points.
But when the clock hit triple zeroes, none of it mattered.
Eventually, Harden found his rhythm, scoring 14 points in the final period. After Donovan Mitchell lit up Houston in the first two quarters, Eric Gordon and the rest of Houston’s defense limited the guard to just 3-14 shooting in the second half.
The Rockets were outplayed for the majority of the game, but they never let Utah build a big lead, as the Jazz never led by double figures. The Rockets just hung around, and in the fourth quarter they had just enough juice left to take a 82-80 lead with 9:28 left in regulation and never trail again.
These are the types of games the elite teams win, especially on the road. It is one of the main things that separates the Rockets and Warriors from every other team in the Western Conference.
Next: No. 1
1. Eric Gordon is one of the most underrated defenders in the league
“Well, Eric is one of the better defenders in the league, without a doubt. Nobody ever talks about it, because he’s pretty understated, but he’s so strong. Nobody can post him up. He puts his chest on people and keeps them out of the lane. He’s just really good at what he does.”
Gordon has been the primary defender on Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, one of the premier guards in the league, in this entire series. EG has done his job and then some against Mitchell.
In Game 1, Gordon defended Mitchell on 34 possessions, limiting him to 2 points on 1-5 shooting, 0 assists and 3 turnovers. In Game 2, Gordon and Mitchell matched up 33 times, and EG limited him to just 6 points on 3-10 shooting and forced him into 2 turnovers. In Game 3, Mitchell got off to a hot start in the first half, but he still didn’t have much success against Gordon. This time, the two matched up 32 times, and Gordon limited Mitchell to 10 points and just 1 assist on 1-6 shooting.
Mitchell is one of those players that is impossible to completely shut down. You just have to make him work as hard as possible. Gordon has done exactly that in this series, which makes him one of the most important and underrated pieces on Houston’s roster.