• Brian L. Barefield

They Can't All Be Pretty: Rockets survive bad shooting to defeat the Utah Jazz to take a 3-0 lead.

After two beautiful wins to start the 2019 NBA Western Conference Playoffs, the Rockets had to dig deep to get an ugly win to take a 3-0 lead over the Utah Jazz. Houston defeated Utah 104 - 101 in front of a rowdy and very energetic home crowd of 18, 306 in Vivint Smart Home Arena.

Utah used a number of defenders and 2018 Defensive Player of The Year Rudy Gobert (7 blocks) to bottle up 2019 scoring leader James Harden for most of the night. He was 0-of-15 shooting through three quarters and did not score a field goal until the fourth quarter when he went down the middle of the paint for a high-flying dunk with 7:34 remaining.

“Yeah, yeah. [Utah] played him tough. I mean, there’s no doubt about it, and into him and they did what they’re supposed to do, but James normally figures that stuff out anyways. So he just didn’t have a great night. And it happens," Head coach Mike D'Antoni said about his superstars performance.

Any great player will tell you that it's not how you start, but how you finish and when you have the 2018 NBA MVP on your team you know to brace yourself for a strong finish. Harden scored 14 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter and took the life and energy out of the Jazz and their crowd.

“Keep being aggressive. 0-15 [FG], 14-15 [FG], 15-15 [FG], our job is to go out there and produce and be aggressive and attack. Nothing changes," said Harden when asked about his poor shooting the first three quarters.

Harden wasn't the only Rocket player making plays in the fourth quarter. Forward P.J. Tucker who is also having a great series offensively came through with two big late rebounds and went 3-for-4 from the free throw line to end the game.

“That is who he is. I always say, for me it is different, I have known Tuck [PJ Tucker] since we were 10 years old and we have been the same size since we were 10 years old. He has been the same guy, that same grit. You just trust him, you have to love him he is going to do any and everything he needs to do to help the team. The stat sheet does it no justice for the way he plays and he is that valuable to our team.” Paul told the media during the post-game press conference.

For all the offensive woes the Rockets were having, their defense was stellar once again against the Jazz. They held them to under 30% from beyond-the-arc by limiting them to only 12-of-41. Houston has been playing great defense late in the season into the playoffs. They were giving up 111 points per game the first 62 games of the season but only 102 the last 20.

In order for Utah to have any chance of making this a series they are going to need a better performance from their superstar shooting guard, Donovan Mitchell. He finished game 3 with 34 points, but was ineffective after the first quarter. Mitchell was 5-of-7 shooting in the first quarter for 13 points, but only hit 4 out of his next 20 attempts and missed 11 shots in a row at one point. To add injury to insult, he missed a wide open 3-point attempt with 8.7 seconds left that would have tied the game.

"You gotta hit shots, and don't miss 16 shots in the second half. Thats my role," Mitchell said as he sat on the podium next to teammate Rudy Gobert.

The Rockets will look to closeout the Jazz on Monday in game 4 at Vivint Smart Home Arena.

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