Published On: Thu, May 3rd, 2018

5 factors that sparked the Jazz's Game 2 upset over the Rockets

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The Utah Jazz are now in the driver’s seat of their Western Conference semifinals matchup against the Houston Rockets after beating the team with the best record in the NBA on Wednesday night – on Houston’s home court, no less.

While the 116-108 victory crucially evened the series at 1-1, the performance can also serve as a blueprint for how the Jazz can look to counter the high-powered Rockets offense – while maximizing their own – as the series heads to Salt Lake City.

Here are five factors that sparked Utah’s big Game 2 upset:

Emphasizing Gobert on offense

The Jazz needed to find ways to exploit the Rockets’ switch-heavy defense, and one way they did that Wednesday was using Rudy Gobert more at the offensive end, especially in the first half. Gobert burned the Rockets when he set high ball screens for Donovan Mitchell or Joe Ingles. Or, more accurately, pretended to. On several delightful occasions, Gobert caught the Rockets anticipating the switch, and then burned them by slipping the screen and darting to the hoop for a dunk.

When he did make the screen stick and the Rockets switched, Gobert usually gave himself the angle to get the seal, or Mitchell was able to beat Clint Capela off the bounce. The rare time the Rockets went under the screen, Mitchell made them pay by splashing a pull-up three. When the Rockets trapped, Mitchell went over the top to find Gobert on the roll, or Ingles shorted it and the ball eventually found its way to Gobert with a mismatch in the post. The center’s numbers weren’t particularly gaudy – 15 points on 12 shooting possessions – but involving him in the action more paid major dividends for Utah’s offense. – Joe Wolfond

Ingles catching fire

“Jinglin’ Joe Ingles” may not be a household name (yet), but coach Quinn Snyder trusts the 30-year-old small forward to step up whenever the team needs him to. That’s exactly what happened in Game 2, as Utah’s primary ball-handler and playmaker in Ricky Rubio remained sidelined with a hamstring injury and Mitchell, the team’s leading scorer, had an off night shooting the ball.

The 30-year-old Ingles erupted for a career-high 27 points on 10-of-13 shooting from the field and 7-of-9 from 3-point territory, setting a franchise record for threes in a playoff game. Six of those attempts from deep were uncontested, and Ingles made four of them, adding to his NBA Playoffs-leading 16 uncontested 3-point baskets, per ESPN Stats & Info. He was the beneficiary of strong ball movement by his teammates, as five of his 3-pointers were assisted. More than anyone else, he capitalized off drives and kicks from the aggressive Mitchell, who assisted on four of the Aussie’s makes and finished with a career-high 11 dimes.

Utah’s $52-million man was also key to holding the Rockets to just 40 percent shooting from the field and 27 percent from deep. As a primary defender, Ingles held his matchups to 1-of-9 shooting from the field and 0-of-6 from long range.

– Victoria Nguyen

Pushing the pace

This game was seven possessions faster than Game 1, and the biggest reason was that Utah made a conscious effort to get out and run, and to waste less time initiating its half-court offense. The Jazz forced just four live-ball turnovers, but Mitchell – and especially reserve guards Dante Exum and Alec Burks – repeatedly pushed the pace off misses, knocking the Rockets back on their heels and creating great looks at the rim and from three in both transition and semi-transition. Houston looked a beat slow getting back, and struggled all night to keep up. – Wolfond

Sharp transition defense

The Jazz hung their hats on their defense to stay in the game after squandering a 19-point lead. Snyder emphasized the importance of getting back on D and not giving up easy baskets in transition, and his men delivered. Entering the game, Houston led the league by yielding just six steals per game and limiting opponents to 10.2 points off turnovers and 8.2 second-chance points, as well as just 11.5 fast-break points (fifth in the playoffs, second among teams still standing). Meanwhile, the Jazz had toiled on the opposite end, giving up a ghastly 20.1 points off turnovers, ranking dead last among the remaining teams.

The tables turned in Game 2, as Utah showed more discipline with its collective defensive effort, which made up for multiple mistakes. Despite turning the ball over 17 times, the Jazz stuck with the Rockets and allowed them to score only 13 points off those turnovers. By comparison, Utah capitalized with 12 points off eight Houston turnovers. The visitors also limited the No. 1-seeded Rockets to only six second-chance points and five fast-break points.

– Nguyen

Poise under pressure

The Jazz led 56-37 with 5:56 left in the first half. Thirteen minutes of game time later, they found themselves on the wrong end of a 24-point swing, trailing the Rockets by five. It would have been easy to fold right there, as there were built-in excuses for why the Jazz shouldn’t win: They were the lower seed, on the road, and missing a starter in Rubio.

But the Jazz played on.

“At that point, for our guys to keep their focus on what we were trying to do, to continue to run, to continue to shoot, and to try to defend, (it) says a lot about the team and how they function together that they didn’t break at that point,” Snyder said at the postgame press conference.

Like the bad guy in an 80s action film, the Jazz just wouldn’t die. Whatever Utah lacks in experience, it makes up for in grit and resilience. Unlike many expected, this series will be anything but a cakewalk for the Rockets. – Andrew Joe Potter

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

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