Breaking down the loss

How the Rockets lost their chance at the sweep

Tim Warren/Getty Images

Monday night the Houston Rockets took on the Utah Jazz with every intention of completing the sweep against their first round opponent. The Jazz had other plans, however, and despite a third quarter run by the Rockets to retake the lead, it was the Jazz who would ultimately battle back and take game four. Utah's hopes remain alive in the 2019 playoffs, yet in spite of their victory they still trail Houston three games to one.

Out muscled

The Rockets came out flat from the get go and that tempo seemed to carry with them throughout the match up. They were out-assisted 14-24, out-rebounded 48-62 (16 of which were offensive), and brutalized in points in the paint, 22-52. It was a lackluster effort, and yet the Rockets remained competitive until the final seconds.

Donovan Mitchell Explodes

Despite poor play all around the Rockets were still hanging around late into the fourth. Their chances of a come from behind victory were quickly dashed when 2nd year guard Donovan Mitchell turned on the jets. Mitchell fired 6-12 for 19 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter alone, including two back to back three-pointers to put the game away late. Mitchell's outburst was perfectly timed and integral in staving off Houston's comeback.

No backup

James Harden shook off his unusual game three performance with a solid 30 point outing, matched closely by 23 points from Chris Paul. Aside from them, however, Houston received little assistance from their supporting cast. The Rockets bench fired a collective 2-16 and accounted for 5 points. The Jazz bench in contrast went 9-22 for 28 points. Harden and Paul can do whatever they want on the court, but if this is the support they can expect moving forward, Houston won't last too much longer this postseason. It's highly unlikely the bench remains that ineffective moving forward, but it's worth keeping an eye on.

Rockets player of the game

Chris Paul: 23 points, 7 assists, 8 rebounds, 5 steals, 2 blocks

Jazz player of the game

Donovan Mitchell: 31 points, 4 assists, 7 rebounds

Next up

The Rockets return to Houston for game 5 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals on Wednesday at 7:00 pm, central.

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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