April 23, 2018, 11:42 pm
All season long, Tom Thibodeau has been criticized for his lack of adjustments, or the slow nature of their development. So when this series progressed, it was a welcome sight that the Wolves were not only making game-to-game adjustments, but effective ones at that.
To combat the James Harden and Clint Capela pick-and-roll that tore them to shreds in Game 1, the Wolves made proper adjustments to the P&R defense and neutralized that aspect of their offense for the next two games.
In general the defense on screens improved and the Wolves aggressively attacked the ball handler. Defenders were fighting over the screens and taking away the 3-point shot, while the bigs were cutting off the paint, for the most part.
In Game 4 the defense started out similarly enough. The intensity was high and the players were even starting to get a little bit chippy with one another. The Wolves were down one point at halftime, 50-49, and were certainly in the head of the Rockets. Harden was struggling from the field once again, shooting just 4-of-14 at the half (starting 0-of-7) and the team as a whole was hitting just 38 percent of their shots.
The Wolves had their fair share of mistakes, but they were the aggressors and forcing a physical game, which was clearly bothering the Rockets.
Coming out of halftime, though, the Wolves inexplicably switched up the defense. The bigs started sagging in the paint, while the on-ball defenders were going under screens. The Rockets were quick to exploit this and started to get hot from the outside.
All of a sudden, the Rockets could hardly miss, and their offensive machine found the oil they had been lacking this entire series. A one-point halftime deficit turned into a 31-point deficit after the Rockets put up 50 points in the third quarter alone.
The team collevtively shot 61 percent from the field, making nine 3-pointers and all 13 of their free throws. Harden was 7-of-10 with 22 points and three 3-pointers by himself, after struggling mightily to that point.
It was the second most points in a quarter in an NBA playoff game ever, and it may have set the tone for the Rockets going forward, however long their run may last.
For all the adjustments Thibs would refuse to make in the regular season, the one he didn’t need to make may have cost the Wolves the series. Once the defenders started going under screens, giving the ball handlers enough space to get comfortable, it was game over. They hit a few shots, built a double-digit lead and from there looked like the 65 win team from the regular season.
The Wolves exposed the Rockets, in a way. They didn’t allow them to get comfortable and play their game to a point where they were clearly a tight bunch. Once Houston got some breathing room, though, they settled right in and put on a show. Even in a 2-1 series deficit, the Wolves had the Rockets on their heels.
One bad, yet historic, quarter was all it took to let them off the hook. Now the series shifts back to Houston, and down 3-1 the Wolves have a mighty hill to climb.
As for some of the adjustments on Houston’s side that were highlighted in the pregame, namely how they would handle Karl-Anthony Towns, the Rockets continued to bring a double team on him, but it certainly wasn’t as aggressive as the first three games. Instead of Chris Paul drawing the matchup in the post, the Rockets instead favored Harden in that role.
Instead of bringing an instant double team, they brought a soft double and often not until KAT put the ball on the floor. That is if KAT was able to get the ball in the post at all. Once again Towns and the Wolves had trouble getting on the same page. Whether it was KAT in the wrong spots or unable to seal off Harden, or the entry passer had a bad angle, it was the same mess that plauged the Wolves in Game 1.
Add some early foul trouble for Towns (he picked up two fouls in 90 seconds) and he was never able to get into a rhythm. Towns finished as the leading scorer with 22 points, adding 15 rebounds and two assists to his line, but nine of his points came in garbage time when the game was well out of hand.
This game had the makings of an old-school dogfight through the first half and potentially historical implications if the Wolves were able to pull it off. Unfortunately they found themselves on the wrong side of history, and now face a win-or-go-home scenario for the remainder of the series.
The Rockets have their old groove going back to their home court while the Wolves are in desperation mode. The Wolves know the Rockets can be beat and they have the formula, but they also know first hand they have the slimmest margin for error. It took just one quarter for the Rockets to dominate the Wolves. If they want to extend this series further, they can’t get caught off guard like that again.
April 23, 2019, 1:30 amChris Paul - G - Houston Rockets
Chris Paul had a great Game 4 in Monday's 91-107 loss to the Jazz with 23 points on 8-of-19 shooting with eight rebounds, seven assists, five steals, two blocks and two 3-pointers.
Paul had a nice breakaway dunk late in the fourth, showing that he's still got the hops and his defense throughout tonight was also solid. He brought back some of his vintage layup package, but the Rockets as a whole went cold from deep late in the game and couldn't stop Donovan Mitchell's barrage in the fourth quarter.
April 23, 2019, 1:30 amJae Crowder - F - Utah Jazz
Jae Crowder finally had a strong night offensively in Monday's Game 4 with 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting to go with four rebounds, an assist, two steals and three 3-pointers.
Crowder had 18 first half points which would have been the most he's scored in any game this series. He was on fire to start the first period and his energy levels were much higher tonight. The Jazz finally got a strong game out of Crowder on both ends of the floor and he'll have to keep nailing shots for the Jazz to drag out this series.
April 23, 2019, 1:29 amRudy Gobert - C - Utah Jazz
Rudy Gobert logged 24 foul-plagued minutes in Monday's Game 4 and scored four points on 2-of-4 shooting with nine rebounds, two assists, a steal and three blocks.
Gobert was a net-positive whenever he was on the floor tonight and he's getting better at keeping up with Houston's guards on the perimeter. He's blocked several of James Harden's floaters over the past two games and has dominated the paint when he plays, but was limited due to fouls tonight. Derrick Favors (24 minutes, 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting with 11 rebounds, an assist, a steal and a block) more than carried his weight tonight as he kept the Rockets at bay with his suffocating defense inside the paint in the final period of action.
April 23, 2019, 1:24 amClint Capela - C - Houston Rockets
Clint Capela struggled in Monday's Game 4, scoring four points on 1-of-6 shooting with seven rebounds and two assists in 28 minutes.
Capela went 2-for-6 at the line and he was severely limited in tonight's game as he struggled with Utah's physicality. The normal lobs he received from James Harden were much more difficult to control tonight and he had trouble finishing around the rim. We expect him to be much better in the next game.
April 23, 2019, 1:24 amDonovan Mitchell - G - Utah Jazz
Donovan Mitchell carried the Jazz in their 107-91 win over the Rockets in Game 4 on Monday with 31 points on 11-of-26 shooting to go with seven rebounds, four assists, a steal and three 3-pointers.
Mitchell finally got some help from his teammates tonight as they helped carry the team's offensive burden throughout the first three periods. In the final quarter, Mitchell scored the Jazz's first 13 points and ended up with 19 fourth quarter points. He had a dazzling spin move, some deep triples and a freakishly athletic alley-oop dunk all in the span of 12 minutes and has kept the Jazz season alive for at least another game due to his heroic efforts. Although the team as a whole has struggled offensively, Mitchell showed his superstar potential tonight.
April 23, 2019, 1:17 amRicky Rubio - G - Utah Jazz
Ricky Rubio scored 18 points on 6-of-17 shooting while adding 11 assists, three rebounds, a steal, a block and a 3-pointer in Game 4 on Monday.
Rubio played much better defense on Houston's guards tonight but was still unable to stretch the floor with his shooting as he went 1-for-7 from deep. If he can make incremental improvements on his defensive assignment while hitting a couple more triples, the Jazz have a good shot at extending this series.
April 23, 2019, 1:15 amJames Harden - G - Houston Rockets
James Harden scored 30 points on 8-of-19 shooting with three rebounds, four assists, two steals and six 3-pointers in Game 4 on Monday.
Harden is facing one of the toughest defenses in the league so the shots he makes are difficult. The step-back 3s were on full display tonight, but Harden had difficulty penetrating the Jazz defense whenever Rudy Gobert was manning the paint. Although his shooting percentages were high, he committed eight turnovers as the mid-range territory is one of the hardest to navigate. Gobert is predicting his floaters and Clint Capela couldn't grab and finish the usual lob passes which hampered Harden's success tonight. He's slowly figuring out the Jazz defense and if Capela can return to form we can expect his assist numbers to spike.
April 23, 2019, 1:12 amEric Gordon - G - Houston Rockets
Eric Gordon scored 16 points on 5-of-12 shooting with five 3-pointers, a rebound, an assist and a block in Monday's Game 4.
Gordon started off hot and did all the stuff the Rockets expected him to do, but late in the game he was unable to hit timely shots for Houston. He'll get another crack at some open looks due to Utah's defensive scheme.
April 23, 2019, 12:21 amBlake Griffin - F - Detroit Pistons
Blake Griffin may have limped through 28 minutes in Monday night's 127-104 Game 4 loss to the Bucks, but he put up 22 points, five rebounds, six assists and four threes.
Griffin helped keep the Pistons' season alive for almost three quarters on a bad knee before fouling out in the fourth to a standing ovation. He was at significantly less than 100 percent during this series, but it was good to see him lay it all out there as a last-gasp effort for his team. Griffin had a great fantasy season and there should be more of the same as the 30-year-old hopefully returns healthy in 2019-20.
April 23, 2019, 12:10 amReggie Jackson - G - Detroit Pistons
Reggie Jackson scored a team-high 26 points (9-of-20 FGs, 5-of-9 threes, 3-of-3 FTs) with seven dimes, three boards and a steal in Monday's Game 4 loss to the Bucks.
Jackson looked great tonight while keeping the Pistons in front for the majority of the game. However, the Bucks went on a big run in the third and fourth quarters to complete the sweep. Jackson, at age 29, doesn't have a whole lot of upside left, but he's certainly capable of putting together games like this once or twice a month to swing a head-to-head matchup.