Obviously we wanted to be aggressive but like I said a million times within the flow of our offense and our team. Lucky enough to get a couple to fall early. – Joe Ingles
HOUSTON — With less than a minute left in regulation Wednesday night, Dante Exum delivered a driving dunk to give the Utah Jazz a nine-point edge.
Sensing the team was in control, injured veteran Thabo Sefolosha enjoyed a friendly exchange with a fan sitting courtside.
Even after blowing a 19-point lead, the Jazz would go on to steal Game 2 at the Toyota Center, 116-108, on Sefolosha’s 34th birthday to even the Western Conference semifinals 1-1.
Joe Ingles was hot from the start, logging a new career-high 27 points including seven 3-pointers. Ingles went 10 for 13 from the field as the Jazz outscored the Rockets 30-23 in the fourth.
“Obviously we wanted to be aggressive but like I said a million times within the flow of our offense and our team,” Ingles said. “Lucky enough to get a couple to fall early.”
Ingles is averaging 15.9 points while shooting 50.9 percent from 3-land in this year’s postseason. Utah’s 15 3-pointers also set a franchise playoff high as the team logged its highest point total of the playoffs.
Jazz coach Quin Snyder said Ingles was prepared to step up from the opening tip as the team needed a big game from him.
“I was giving Joe a hard time,” Snyder said. “He started last year as probably our fifth wing and he wasn’t that for long, but I mentioned it before but every time Joe is needed to step up his game, he’s been able to do that or a least he’s committed to that and I think over time he’s improved.“
Utah’s bench also flourished, especially at the start of the second quarter, with Jae Crowder, Alec Burks and Exum logging solid minutes. The Jazz bench outscored the Rockets bench 41-22.
Burks finished with 17 points, Crowder added 15 points and 10 rebounds while Exum posted nine points while doing a solid job of defending James Harden who still managed to score 32 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds on 9-for-22 shooting. That was much better than his 41-point outburst in the series opener, though.
“I just made winning plays,” Burks said. “I just took advantage of the opportunity.”
After dropping Game 1 on Sunday 110-96, the Jazz made noticeable adjustments to start Game 2, taking a 36-28 lead in the opening quarter behind Ingles’ 11 early points.
Ingles went 3 for 3 from beyond the arc at the beginning of the first period as the Jazz shot 63.6 percent from the field, although star rookie Donovan Mitchell picked up two quick fouls.
The Jazz built a 56-37 lead at 6:49 in the second quarter, following a 3-pointer by Mitchell.
However, Mitchell picked up his third personal foul at 4:09 in the second and left the game with seven points and seven assists.
Harden scored 17 second-quarter points to help the Rockets close the first half on an 18-8 run, trailing 64-55 at halftime. Houston was held to 40.4 percent shooting and 26.7 percent from 3 after two quarters while the Jazz connected on 55.8 percent of their field goals and 50 percent from 3.
Harden picked up his fourth foul on a charge against Dante Exum at 2:52 in the third. The Jazz made five turnovers in the third, allowing eight Rockets points, but still led 86-85 entering the fourth.
Then in the fourth, the Jazz held on with strong execution down the stretch.
Mitchell scored 17 points with a career-high 11 assists on 6-for-21 shooting but delivered a highlight putback jam off his own miss over three defenders at 6:11 in the fourth.
“To be honest with you, I was just trying to shoot a floater and grab a rebound, but I just happened to be up there so I figured, ‘Why come down with it?’” Mitchell described, laughing. “That was my first one really on TV. I’ve had a few like that.”
Utah Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell takes us through his vicious fourth-quarter putback dunk. “To be honest with you, I was just trying to shoot a floater and grab a rebound, but I just happened to be up there so I figured why come down with it?” pic.twitter.com/ntlppctdyS— Eric Woodyard (@E_Woodyard) May 3, 2018
Despite turning the ball over only eight times, Houston still shot just 40 percent with Chris Paul scoring 17 of his 23 points in the second half while Rudy Gobert finished with 15 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks for the Jazz.
The Jazz now return home and will host Game 3 in Vivint Arena on Friday night at 8:30 (ESPN). Utah has definitely earned the respect of the heavily favored Rockets.
“I think we had respect for them already,” Paul said. “They won, like we said, they came out, they made shots, they were aggressive and we didn’t.
“We’ve got to stay more aggressive throughout the game on both ends, offensively and defensively,” he added. “They obviously made some adjustments. As we’ll look at the film, and see what we can do better and we’ll be ready in Utah.”