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Utah Jazz fall behind 0-3 to Houston Rockets despite rough night for reigning MVP James Harden

Utah Jazz guard Ricky Rubio (3) is gfouled by Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul (3) during NBA playoffs in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 20, 2019.
Utah Jazz guard Ricky Rubio (3) is gfouled by Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul (3) during NBA playoffs in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 20, 2019.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Nearly 48 hours had passed since the Utah Jazz suffered the 20-point loss to the Houston Rockets in Game 2, and Donovan Mitchell could still recite the opening minutes pretty much verbatim.

“They just out-toughed us, just outplayed us … I think that’s all it really is, is a mindset,” Mitchell stressed following Friday’s practice session.

“You can do X's and O's all you want but it’s really just a mindset of how hard you want to play,” he continued.

Unlike Games 1 and 2, the Jazz’s aggression was on display from the opening tip of Game 3 at Vivint Arena on Saturday night.

Mitchell caught an alley-oop jam at 10:40 followed by an and-one corner 3-pointer off glass to score six quick points, while helping the Jazz get off to an 11-3 start. He put up 13 of his game-high 34 points, six rebounds and five assists during the first quarter but the Jazz still fell behind 3-0 in the first-round series after losing 104-101.

Jazz coach Quin Snyder adjusted the starting lineup with Jae Crowder getting the nod over Derrick Favors. After beating the Jazz by 32 and 20 points in the first two games, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni anticipated the Jazz potentially changing the game plan but said “we will adjust during the game.”

“There’s a continuity component that you’ve played a certain way over the course of the season and then your opponent sometimes dictates matchup situations that require adjustments, whether it be offensive rebounding, spacing, defensive matchups,” Snyder explained the lineup change. “Some of the way we substitute gets dictated by that.”

Harden averaged 30.5 points, 10.5 rebounds and 10.0 assists against the Jazz defense in the first two games of the series but struggled offensively in Game 3. The reigning MVP went 0-for-15 before making his first field goal off a driving dunk at 7:34 in the fourth. He did tie his season high in a game with six steals in addition to his 22 points, 10 assists and four rebounds.

Emotions were high all night in front of the sellout crowd as Austin Rivers and Joe Ingles were hit with double technical fouls at 7:22 in the second for tossing the ball at each other after a play. Snyder was also hit with a technical at 4:06 in the second for growing furious at an official after an apparent no-call on Mitchell while attacking the basket.

At halftime, the Jazz led 55-50 after Ingles drained a trey before the buzzer, then led 76-74 entering the fourth despite being outscored by the Rockets, 24-21, during the third.

Houston jumped to a 10-4 lead to start the fourth and took a four-point edge, 84-80, at 8:33. The Rockets pulled away down the stretch with Harden getting to the line for 14 fourth-quarter points.

Although the final outcome was in Houston’s favor, it was still a gritty offensive display with Utah shooting 29.3% from 3 while holding Houston to 38.4% as a team.

Favors and Georges Niang were both solid off the bench with Favors scoring 13 points and grabbing four rebounds and Niang posting eight points and seven rebounds in 17 minutes.

Rudy Gobert swatted four of his seven blocked shots in the opening quarter while grabbing eight rebounds and 10 points.

Chris Paul led the Rockets with 18 points while Harden went 3-for-20 on the night and 14-for-16 at the free-throw line. Clint Capela also ended with 14 rebounds, 11 points and two blocks. P.J. Tucker added 12 points with 10 rebounds as well.

Game 4 is set for Monday at 8:30 p.m. MT on TNT as the Jazz try not to get swept.