HOUSTON – The series record is 278-19 for teams that take a two-games-to-none lead in best-of-seven series in the NBA playoffs. As the Rockets look to go up 2-0 on the Utah Jazz in Houston on Wednesday night, here are some keys to another Houston victory:
1) Isolate 'Stifle Tower'
The Jazz tied San Antonio in the regular season for the NBA’s stingiest defense, allowing just 99.8 points per contest. Utah was also fifth in the league at forcing turnovers, generating 14.5 takeaways per game. The key to it all is the likely NBA Defensive Player of the Year -- Jazz center Rudy Gobert.
In Game 1, the Rockets did a tremendous job spacing the floor and leaving the 7-foot-1 Frenchman on an island in the paint. That allowed Rockets guards to drive at Gobert and either kick it out to shooters or drop it off to center Clint Capela (who finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds).
If Utah tries to have some of their defenders cheat in to help on drives to the paint, it leaves guys like Trevor Ariza, P.J. Tucker, Luc Mbah a Moute, and Ryan Anderson open outside. Houston needs to take advantage of those looks like they did in Game 1, where they made 17 of 32 attempts from deep.
2) Keep Joe Ingles in check
The Jazz are led by one of the most dynamic rookies in recent memory, shooting guard Donovan Mitchell. He’s proven he’s good enough to get his just about any night (21 points vs. Houston in Game 1). The issue for Utah opponents is when other players also get hot. Enter Aussie swingman Ingles.
In Games 3 and 4 of the Jazz’s first round series with Oklahoma City, Ingles hit double-figures both times, connecting on five three’s in each game. Both were blowout wins for Utah.
In Game 1 vs. the Rockets, Houston held the 6-foot-8 forward to 15 points, but allowed him to only get off three attempts from long range. If the Rockets can stop Ingles from heating up from distance, it puts more pressure on other Jazz players to produce offensively, something that doesn’t come so easily to Jazz players not named Mitchell.
3) Don’t let up.
The Rockets got out to a red hot start in Game 1, and were in control for pretty much the entire game. The one hiccup was early in the fourth quarter, when Utah settled into a rhythm and pulled to within 11 points.
The Jazz will be more rested coming into Game 2 than were entering Game 1, and will have made some adjustments overall. The Rockets can’t afford to take their foot off the pedal -- especially at home -- and allow Utah to gain confidence and momentum.
If the Rockets just stick to what got them here, they should be able to hold serve at home and head to Salt Lake City on Friday with a commanding 2-0 lead, which the numbers say typically leads to a series win.