HOUSTON — Coach Mike D’Antoni believes the Houston Rockets got “lulled to sleep” after cruising to a Game 1 win over the Utah Jazz and it cost them in the second game of the Western Conference semifinal series.
The Jazz built a 19-point lead in the second quarter of their 116-108 win in Wednesday’s Game 2 over the top-seeded Rockets at the Toyota Center. The Rockets rallied and led early in the fourth quarter before the fifth-seeded Jazz finished strong, but D’Antoni said his primary concern was Houston’s slow start, particularly the poor defensive effort that allowed Utah to score 36 points in the first quarter.
“We can correct our energy and we can correct the necessary focus that we need to have,” D’Antoni said. “You get lulled into sleep. You think this stuff’s easy. It’s not easy. This is the NBA. This is the [conference] semifinals. We kind of got lulled into it, and we paid for it.”
The Rockets rolled to a 110-96 win in Game 1, leading by 25 points at halftime. It was their third consecutive playoff victory by a double-digit margin after they blew out the Minnesota Timberwolves in the final two games of a five-game first-round series.
Houston, which had the NBA’s best record at 65-17, also defeated Utah by double digits in each of the teams’ four regular-season meetings.
But the Jazz made significant adjustments after Game 1, attacking earlier in possessions instead of moving the ball as much as usual in an attempt to exploit the Rockets’ switch-everything defensive scheme. Utah shot 63.6 percent from the floor in the first quarter, including 5-of-8 from 3-point range, with rookie guard Donovan Mitchell feeding Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert for easy dunks off pick-and-rolls on the first two possessions.
“They came out with some thrust in that first half,” said Rockets guard James Harden, who had 32 points and 11 assists in the loss. “They made shots, but they were wide-open shots. We came out a little too lackadaisical. We were just kind of going through the motions and whatnot. The end of the second quarter and third quarter we picked it up, but it’s a pretty good team out there. If you give any team, especially in the postseason, that kind of confidence, it’s pretty tough.”
Six Utah players finished in double figures, led by small forward Joe Ingles, who set career highs with 27 points and seven 3-pointers made on nine attempts. Mitchell had an off shooting night, going 6-of-21 for 17 points, but he dished out a career-best 11 assists, the most in franchise history by a rookie in the playoffs, breaking John Stockton’s record.
“These guys are good,” D’Antoni said of the Jazz, who went 29-6 down the stretch of the regular season after falling nine games under .500. “We kept warning [Rockets players] they’re good, but we saw tonight how good they are.”