How unstoppable is James Harden? The Utah Jazz tried to slow him down by only letting him score in one way. Unfortunately, for the Jazz, it didn’t work.
The Houston Rockets beat the Jazz in Game 1 of the playoffs on Sunday. One big takeaway from the matchup was that the Jazz will need to find a new way to guard Harden.
Harden had a modest game by his standards, with 29 points, 8 rebounds, and 10 assists, but it was the way he shredded the Jazz’s radical defensive strategy that ought to concern Utah.
The Jazz borrowed a defensive strategy a few other teams have used this season: giving Harden open drives to the right.
The logic is multi-faceted. The Rockets try to score on shots at the rim or on three-pointers, with nothing in between. Their offense is based around Harden running the pick-and-roll, driving to the basket, pulling up for three, or spraying the ball out to shooters when help comes.
The Jazz’s strategy was to take away Harden’s left hand (his dominant hand) force him right, with a defender on his hip to corral him to center Rudy Gobert in the paint. The strategy is supposed to prevent Harden from pulling up for three or getting all the way to the rim, instead, forcing him into awkward, contested shots from middle distances.
As TNT’s Kenny Smith said on “Inside the NBA” on Sunday, the Jazz weren’t “forcing” Harden right — they were just “allowing” him to go right.
But Harden is so good that he navigated it quite easily, sinking floaters or finding his big men for lobs.