NBA

Utah Jazz back up Donovan Mitchell while Chris Paul runs the show for Houston Rockets

Jay Asser 17:24 19/04/2018
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Donovan Mitchell embraces Ricky Rubio after Utah's Game 2 win.

The way the Utah Jazz got back into their opening-round series was, unsurprisingly, through everyone around Donovan Mitchell stepping up.

Utah’s dependable rookie once again led the way, but it was his supporting cast that made the difference in the 102-95 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 2.

Paul George wasn’t a flamethrower this time and Thunder offence as a whole was held in check, but on the other end the Jazz took advantage when the ball was out of Mitchell’s hands.

Oklahoma City continued to employ an aggressive trapping defence against Mitchell for much of the game and though he still got his by scoring 28 points on 10-of-25 shooting, Utah didn’t fall apart when he had to rely on his teammtes.

Ricky Rubio scored 22 points and hit an improbable (for him) 5-of-8 from deep, while Derrick Favors added 20 and hit a pair of 3s of his own.

Outside of Rubio and Favors, the Jazz struggled to shoot from the perimeter, finishing 9-of-29 for the game, but more than made up for it with nifty passing around the paint to exploit 2-on-1 situations after Oklahoma City sent two defenders at Mitchell.

With as much of the scoring burden as Mitchell has to carry, the Thunder will likely continue to force the ball out of his hands and make the rest of the Jazz beat him.

That task for the supporting cast will be tougher when either George or Russell Westbrook are feeling it, but if Utah can keep within striking distance on the strength of their defence, they have enough offensive talent to advance.

Houston, we have no problem

If you want to know the biggest difference between previous iterations of the Houston Rockets and this season’s team, look no further than the 102-82 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves in Game 2.

In years past, the Rockets likely wouldn’t have survived hitting just 36.5 per cent from the field and seeing James Harden finish with a modest 12 points on 2-of-18 shooting. Thanks to their underrated defence and the presence of Chris Paul, however, Game 2 against Minnesota wasn’t all that close.

In the regular season, Houston allowed the second-fewest 3-point attempts and makes, while holding opponents to the fourth-lowest shooting percentage from beyond the arc at 31.7.

Their ability to defend the perimeter was on full display in Game 2 as the Timberwolves hit just 5-of-18 triples and struggled to get anything easy.

With Jimmy Butler continuing to look at less than 100 per cent and taking only six shots in 25 minutes, the Rockets shut down Karl-Anthony Towns again as the big man went 2-of-9 for only five points.

Towns averaged 21.3 points on 54.5 per cent shooting in the regular season, but through two games against Houston he’s scoring 6.5 points per game and converting 27.8 per cent from the field. Without him carrying a greater offensive load, the Timberwolves have no chance.

On the other end, with Harden having an off night, Paul filled the role of chief playmaker.

The veteran point guard was at his best to score 27 points on an efficient 10-of-18 shooting, while dishing eight assists.

He wasn’t hitting the same step-back 3s we’ve become accustomed to seeing Harden nail, but he was still cooking Minnesota in isolation and getting to wherever he wanted on the floor.

It’s a tremendous luxury the Rockets have that when their superstar isn’t on his game, they can turn to their other star for similar production.

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