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The Roundup—Jazz start strong, fall short despite Harden's off night

by Matt Payne

On a night when reigning league MVP James Harden missed his first 15 shots, the Utah Jazz simply couldn't sustain any offensive momentum, missing free throws and open 3-pointers in what amounted to a giant missed opportunity.

The result was a disappointing 104-101 loss and a 3-0 series deficit heading into Monday's Game 4 in Salt Lake City.

"We had the right mindset and were aggressive, but we've got to capitalize," Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell said after the game. "You can't give a team like this multiple opportunities. I wouldn't say it all came down to [missed free throws], but it definitely would've helped."

Mitchell led the Jazz with 34 points, while Derrick Favors came off the bench to score 13 points (and block two shots) in 15 minutes. Rudy Gobert finished with 10 points, eight rebounds and seven blocks.

Ricky Rubio (10 points) was the only other Utah player to score in double figures.

The game turned in the third quarter, when Utah left a handful of points out on the floor. The Jazz got to the free-throw line often but shot only 9-for-17. That, combined with 35.7 percent shooting from the field—including two air-balled threes by Kyle Korver and a blown dunk by Favors—plus six turnovers, prevented the Jazz from extending their lead into double digits. Instead, Houston, despite Harden's struggles, hung around until Harden started making shots in the final period.

"We didn't capitalize as much as we needed to, especially during a stretch there in the third quarter where I thought we had a chance to build a little bit of a lead," Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said. "We got some looks that we had to take, and they didn't fall."

Harden had an off night for the ages, picking up two fouls in the first 90 seconds and four by the third minute of the second half. Despite his cold shooting, Harden still finished with a team-high 22 points (on 3-for-20 from the field and 14-for-16 from the line), along with four rebounds, 10 assists and six steals in 39 minutes.

Chris Paul added 18 points and three steals in the win for the Rockets.

Saturday's Best

Mitchell was quiet during the first two games of the series. He was anything but on Saturday—at least early on. The second-year guard shot 5-for-7 for 13 first-quarter points before struggling through a 1-for-13 stretch that lasted until the final period. Mitchell bounced back, though, to score Utah's final seven points in a dramatic ending, and he finished with 34 points along with six rebounds, five assists, three steals and a block in 42 minutes.

Key Stretches

After struggling through the first two games, the Jazz came out hot and took a quick 8-0 lead in Game 3. Gobert made two free throws, while Mitchell threw down an alley-oop slam in transition and banked in a corner three while being fouled (by Harden). He made the free throw for a four-point play. Two misses on wide-open corner three attempts (by Joe Ingles and Rubio) kept Utah from extending that lead.

Utah led by two at the end of the first quarter, but Houston came back to take a one-point lead early in the second. Two straight dunks by Favors, though, plus a three by Mitchell, put Utah back on top. The rest of the quarter went back and forth, with five ties and four lead changes. The Jazz finished the period on a scrappy 5-0 run, capped by a three from Ingles with 1.1 seconds left, to take a 55-50 lead into halftime.

After a landslide of missed free throws and 3-pointers, the Jazz found some energy on a dunk by Favors and a two straight fouls by Paul, one on the offensive end when he bowled over Korver. Three free throws by Favors put Utah back up by one. After two free throws by Paul, Korver hit a corner three.

Utah held a four-point lead early in the final period, but back-to-back threes by Gerald Green and two free throws by Harden flipped the score. A three by Jae Crowder, though, snapped Houston's 8-0 run and pulled the Jazz back within one. After another Utah turnover, Harden drove into the lane for his first field goal of the night, a one-handed dunk with 7:32 left in the game. After a Jazz timeout, Harden pulled up and hit a three from five feet behind the line. A dunk by Gobert and three by Royce O'Neale pulled the Jazz back within one with just over five minutes left, setting up a dramatic finish.

Mitchell and Harden traded threes with just over a minute remaining, and Mitchell slid in for a layup to pull Utah within two. With the Jazz down two, Gobert was whistled for a tough foul after getting elbowed in the face by Harden. Instead of a Jazz fast break, Harden sank two free throws to put Houston up by four. Mitchell was fouled and made two free throws for the Jazz, who proceeded to force a miss by Harden—only to watch P.J. Tucker grab an offensive rebound. Tucker was fouled but missed his second free throw to give Utah a chance. Down by three with 10.1 seconds left, Mitchell got an open look but came up short on a three. Two free throws by Tucker with 6.5 seconds left sealed the win for Houston.

Significant Stats

65.8

The Jazz had a rough go from the free-throw line, shooting only 65.8 percent (25-for-38) as a team. Every Utah player who attempted a free throw—Mitchell (12-for-17), Favors (3-for-6), Gobert (4-for-6), Rubio (4-for-6) and Crowder (2-for-3)—missed at least one.

25.5

Utah is now 27-for-106 (25.5 percent) from 3-point range this series. During the regular season, the Jazz shot 35.6 percent from beyond the arc, which ranked No. 10 in the NBA.

Coach's Quote of the Night

"We laid it all out there. I'm proud of how we played and how we competed. We just didn't get a win tonight to reflect that."

Jazz head coach Quin Snyder

Notable

Ingles, Snyder and Houston's Austin Rivers each picked up technical fouls in the second quarter. ... Danté Exum (knee) was out for the Jazz. ... Thabo Sefolosha was not on the injury report but did not play. ... The game featured 12 ties and 11 lead changes. ... Houston shot 38.4 percent from the field and 67.6 percent (23-for-34) from the free-throw line. ... The teams combined for 72 free throws. ... Utah outscored Houston 14-10 in transition. ... Georges Niang finished with eight points, seven rebounds and a steal in 17 minutes off the bench.

Up Next

The Jazz will stay at home for Game 4 against the Rockets on Monday. Tipoff is set for 8:30pm MT, and the game will be broadcast on both TNT and AT&T SportsNet.

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