Jazz hold off Rockets to even series

Salt Lake City: Joe Ingles delivered a scintillating shooting performance, and the Utah Jazz withstood a furious second-half rally from the Houston Rockets for a 116-108 victory on Wednesday at Toyota Centre in Game 2 of a Western Conference semi-final series.

Ingles drilled 7 of 9 3-point attempts and posted 27 points, sinking two treys during a 16-2 run late in the fourth quarter that evened the series at 1-1 with Game 3 set for Friday in Salt Lake City.

Utah shot splendidly throughout and finished 15 for 32 from behind the arc while posting a 51.2 percentage from the floor overall.

Donovan Mitchell paired 17 points with 11 assists while Jae Crowder and Alec Burks combined for 32 points on 12-for-21 shooting off the Utah bench. The Jazz also received strong performances from Ruby Gobert (15 points, 14 rebounds) and Dante Exum, whose defence on Rockets guard James Harden proved instrumental during crucial stretches.

Harden totalled 32 points and 11 assists while Clint Capela also posted a double-double of 21 points and 11 rebounds. However, Houston shot just 40 per cent from the floor and missed 27 of 37 3-point tries. And, after claiming a 94-92 lead on an Eric Gordon 3-pointer with 8:04 left, the Rockets collapsed defensively yet again, with Mitchell and Ingles fuelling the Jazz to the upset victory.

Mitchell, speaking to TNT postgame, said of the Jazz’s resilience, “That’s in our DNA, that’s in our character, to withstand the run. Everybody stepped up and played well, I’m so proud of those guys. The biggest thing is we defended.

We’ll take this win, but we got three more [to go].”

The Jazz provided the clearest indication of their readiness with the early utilisation of their bigs, with Gobert and Derrick Favors slipping screens and earning uncontested shots at the rim.

Utah torched the nets for 63.6 per cent shooting in the opening period and carried a 36-28 lead into the second. When the Rockets’ second unit laboured to build some momentum, Gobert and Favors started converting in the paint as the Jazz repeatedly left the Rockets scrambling defensively to cover the action.

“They came out with some thrust in that first half,” Harden said. “They made shots, but they were wide-open shots. We came out a little too lackadaisical.

We were just kind of going through the motions and whatnot. The end of the second quarter and third quarter we picked it up, but it’s a pretty good team out there. If you give any team, especially in the postseason, that kind of confidence, it’s pretty tough.”

After Mitchell drilled a 3-pointer with 6:49 left in the second, the Jazz led by 19. Suddenly Harden came alive, and after Mitchell went to the bench with his third foul at the 4:09 mark, Harden scored 13 of the Rockets’ final 14 points of the first half, single-handedly cutting the deficit to 64-55.

Houston actually pushed to a 77-72 lead in the third quarter, but the Jazz kept finding offence despite Mitchell’s rough shooting night. The rookie guard made only 6 of 21 attempts from the field.

“My teammates, they keep telling me to shoot the ball,” Mitchell said.

“I didn’t shoot the ball well tonight. I had a few turnovers, had a few bad decisions, but they still believed in me to make plays. When the shot’s not falling, gotta find a way to do something else.”