SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz rolled out the red, orange and gold carpet for the top-seeded Houston Rockets on Friday night, and promptly rolled over.
James Harden and Eric Gordon each had 25 points, and Chris Paul chipped in with 15 points, seven rebounds and six assists as the Rockets reclaimed the lead in the Western Conference semifinals with a 113-92 victory over the Jazz in Game 3 at Vivint Arena.
Utah’s Donovan Mitchell struggled most of the night, finishing with 10 points on 4-of-16 shooting. The rookie entered the game averaging better than 26 points per game in the playoffs.
“We weren’t there as a team,” Mitchell said after the game, later shouldering more of the blame for the loss. “I would have been better off just not showing up. And that’s what I did; I didn’t show up at all for my teammates.”
Mitchell hit a 3-pointer in the final minute of the third quarter and followed with another 3 in the quarter’s waning seconds. But even with the back-to-back 3s, Utah trailed 93-65 heading into the fourth quarter.
The Rockets shot nearly 49 percent in the game and led by as many as 38 before coasting to the 21-point victory, sending Utah’s red-, orange- and gold-clad fans to the exits early.
“They just took us out of our rhythm,” Mitchell said after the game. “We can’t let that happen. They were the aggressor all night. … We didn’t respond.”
After losing Game 2 in Houston, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said his team approached Game 3 by saying, “OK, we put ourselves in a little a bit of a hole. We’re going to have to respond. Do we have that in us? And they had a resounding ‘yes.'”
Houston now leads the series 2-1, with Game 4 set for 6 p.m. Sunday at Vivint Arena. The game will be televised by TNT.
“Now we’ve got Sunday,” D’Antoni said. “We still put ourselves in a hole. We wanted to come here after two wins in Houston to win one. But now we’ve got to get one Sunday, and we know it won’t be easy. These guys are good.”
Game 5 in the best-of-seven series is set for 8 pm. Tuesday in Houston. If there’s a Game 6 in the series, it would be in Utah on Thursday, and Game 7 would be back in Houston on May 14, if necessary.
Jazz coach Quin Snyder said his team didn’t play with the sense of urgency needed to win in the playoffs, and the Rockets did.
“Credit Houston. They did what they can do, and we didn’t play well obviously,” Snyder said. “For us, the margin for error is not that great. … (The Rockets) were focused and determined to do what they wanted to do, and we just didn’t provide enough resistance in a lot of areas.”
Snyder also was hard on the Jazz’s defense, saying, “I don’t think anybody did their job defensively, and it showed. We just looked porous.”
Paul said the Jazz’s 116-108 win in Game 2 in Houston on Wednesday was a wake-up call.
“For the most of the part, most of the shots they took tonight were contested,” he said. “We just played a little harder too.”
The Jazz were without point guard Ricky Rubio, who continues to battle left hamstring injury. And Jazz big man Derrick Favors left the game with an injury in the third quarter.
Royce O’Neale started in place of Rubio and finished with a team-high 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting.
During a pregame news conference Friday, Snyder said Rubio is “shooting” and “making progress.”
“How much progress? It’s always hard to gauge,” he said, offering no timetable for Rubio’s return to the lineup. The six-year pro from Spain is averaging 14 points, seven rebounds and seven assists per game in the playoffs.
Rubio’s absence puts “a lot of pressure on (Mitchell’s) shoulders,” said Rudy Gobert, who finished with 12 points and nine rebounds. “He’s been great. He’s been working hard to lead this team. But he’s a guard; he’s not a point guard. It’s a great learning process for him. … I know he’s going to come back next game and do amazing things like he did in Game 2.
“We definitely miss Ricky. He’s a point guard, he’s a floor general. … He keeps us together offensively and defensively,” he said.
Snyder said the Rockets caused problems for Mitchell by forcing him to his left hand. “He has to adjust to that,” the Jazz coach said of his rookie star, “and I think he can.”
“They’re a good defensive team; they’ve been that all year,” he said. “They raised their level. They made it harder, and we weren’t able to get where we wanted to go on the floor.”
Paul said the Rockets “tried to make it tough” on Mitchell, noting that the Jazz rookie has been “great all year.”
“He’s a tough cover, and it’s hard to stop him individually,” the Rockets point guard said. “Guys have to do it collectively.”
The Jazz fell behind early, giving up eight straight points — including a back-to-back 3-pointers from Trevor Ariza and P.J. Tucker — to trail 8-3. Harden later hit a technical free throw, then scored on a drive to the basket to make it 15-5. That deficit grew to 19-5 midway though the first quarter before Mitchell scored his first basket of the night.
The Jazz turned the ball over six times, shot just 38 percent and trailed 39-22 after the first quarter. The Rockets, meanwhile, didn’t turn it over at all in the quarter and shot 61.5 percent from the floor. At one point in the quarter, Houston led by 22.
Utah got a spark midway through the second quarter from O’Neale, who scored seven consecutive points to cut the Rockets’ lead to 49-34. But the Jazz failed to mount a serious challenge in the second half.
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