SALT LAKE CITY — Starting strong in the first half is becoming a signature for Houston.
For the second time in their playoff series with Utah, the Rockets raced to a lopsided win after dismantling the Jazz on both ends of the court before halftime. Houston surged ahead of Utah in a 113-92 victory in Game 3 on Friday by hitting a flurry of shots and then taking the Jazz completely out of their offense.
The Rockets shot 58.7 percent from the field before halftime and did not commit a turnover until late in the second quarter. They led by as many as 30 points in the first half.
James Harden and Eric Gordon led the charge. Each player scored 25 points and Harden dished out 12 assists.
It helped Houston take a 2-1 series lead going into Game 4 on Sunday.
“They were aggressive the entire night,” Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell said. “We didn’t respond in any way, so we have to take this one on the chin and respond in Game 4.”
Forcing turnovers became Houston’s calling card from the opening tip. The Rockets pressured Utah into making bad passes or settling for tough, contested shots. The Jazz committed 11 turnovers in the first half, leading to 17 points for Houston.
Their goal was to keep Utah from settling into its offense the way the Jazz did in Game 2. Houston succeeded in dominating the first half in much the same fashion that the Rockets did in the first game of the series.
“I thought our defense was superb,” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We were hitting shots all over the place, kept the crowd out of it. We kept them on their heels. You could see the guys feeding off good defense and good defense. When you do that and your energy is right, the shots start to go down.”
Houston raised its level on defense. Utah finished with 16 turnovers and shot less than 40 percent from the field until the fourth quarter. When the Jazz weren’t hitting shots, they couldn’t balance things out by getting stops on the other end.
Most possessions ended up wasted and the gulf between the two teams quickly grew into a canyon.
“They made it harder and we weren’t able to get the ball where we wanted to go on the floor,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “We weren’t able to get the ball vertically in order to get shots for other guys. If we get into a situation where we’re just having to create off the dribble by ourselves, that’s not what we’re best at.”
To improve its fortunes in Game 4, Utah will have to get better performances from Mitchell and Joe Ingles. The duo combined to shoot 6-of-26 from the floor two nights after Ingles posted a career-high 27 points and Mitchell added 17 points while dishing out a career-high 11 assists.
Mitchell, in particular, has been a focal point of Houston’s defense in the series and it has showed. He hasn’t been able to find much of a shooting rhythm while playing at point guard. The rookie is averaging only 16.0 points while shooting 32.2 percent from the field over the first three games of the series.
“We try to defend and try to make him see a crowd and try to make it tough on him, just like they try to do to us when they press up on us,” Rockets guard Chris Paul said. “We just tried to make it tough on him.”
Their contributions are even more vital for the Jazz with Ricky Rubio trying to bounce back from a hamstring injury and Derrick Favors limited by a sprained ankle. Both are listed as questionable for Game 4.