First Quarter Play Will Be Key To Saving Utah’s Season In Game 3

Apr 19, 2019, 4:34 PM
Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz drives to t he basket psat Clint Capela #15 of the Houston Ro...
Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz drives to t he basket psat Clint Capela #15 of the Houston Rockets during Game Two of the first round of the 2019 NBA Western Conference Playoffs between the Houston Rockets and the Utah Jazz at Toyota Center on April 17, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – For the Utah Jazz to have improved play in Game 3 against the Houston Rockets, they’ll need to start games better than they have in the first two games.

After the opening period of the first game, the Rockets led 31-24 thanks to 12 points in the first quarter by James Harden. Game 2 was even worse, as Houston built a commanding 20-point lead with a 39-19 advantage going into the second quarter. Harden had 17 points in the opening period of Game 2.

When it comes to setting the tone early, winning the first quarter has made a big difference for the Jazz all season.

According to HoopsStats.com, the Jazz are 37-9 this season when leading after the opening period. When trailing after the first quarter, Utah is 12-23.

The problem Utah faces against Houston however, is that the Rockets are one of the best first quarter teams in the league. In the regular season, Houston averaged 29.9 first quarter points per game which was the third best mark in the NBA. The Jazz were in the lower portion of that statistic, averaging 27.1 points in the first quarter, which was the 22nd best mark in the league.

It also doesn’t help Utah’s chances that Harden, the league’s scoring champion in the regular season, is also the best early-game scorer in basketball. His 9.6 points first quarter points per game was the best mark in the league.

As Jazz guard Ricky Rubio said after Game 2, guarding Harden has been extremely challenging. In Game 1, the Jazz implemented a shading type of defense on Harden that was not very effective, resulting in a Houston win. The Jazz tried that strategy again in the early goings of Game 2, but moved away from it as Harden continued to slice up the Utah defense.

Whatever the Jazz decide to do early on Harden in Game 3, it will be paramount to their success or failure. If Houston gets a sizable lead early in the game, it may be nearly impossible for the Jazz to come back, as has been the case in both games this series.

Should the Jazz end up losing Game 3 on Saturday, odds are that the series will be basically over. A series win by a team being down 0-3 has never happened in the NBA.

The opening quarter of Game 3 could be the most important 12 minutes of the Jazz’s season. It’s up to the players and coaching staff to come up with a plan to bottle up Harden and the Rockets early or the end of Utah’s 2018-19 season will be here sooner rather than later.

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