Quin Snyder walked into his news conference after Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals with a stoic look, slowly rubbing his forehead, barely if ever cracking anything that would resemble a smile.
And he was on the winning side.
This much is clear about the Utah Jazz: They are not surprising themselves by being in this position. A team that was written off by Vegas oddsmakers and alleged experts coming into the season after losing Gordon Hayward in free agency won 48 games, ousted reigning MVP Russell Westbrook and Oklahoma City in the first round, and now have the Houston Rockets in a bit of trouble.
The Jazz stole home-court from Houston with a win on Wednesday night, and now look to take a 2-1 lead when the series shifts to Salt Lake City for Game 3 on Friday night.
“When guys have confidence in each other, it allows them, I think, the confidence individually to step up,” Snyder said.
Confidence is not an issue for the Jazz.
Even on a night where Donovan Mitchell shot 6 for 21 and fellow rookie backcourt starter Royce O’Neale shot 2 for 5, the Jazz won thanks largely to a great start and a great bench. Utah’s reserves outscored Houston’s 41-22 in Game 2 and that, combined with a 27-point night from Joe Ingles, was enough for the Jazz.
There’s a pair of Game 3s on the schedule Friday, both out West, and the other being Golden State going to New Orleans. The Warriors lead that matchup 2-0, the 11th time in Golden State’s last 14 series that they’ve opened with a pair of victories.
“No pressure for us,” New Orleans star Anthony Davis said. “We just go out there and play, have fun, enjoy the moment and embrace it. The rest will take care of itself. We’re going to make shots here at home and it’s going to be a lot tougher for them.”
Even down 2-0, the Pelicans insist that they can play freely.
Same goes for the Jazz.
Hardly anyone outside of Salt Lake City a few months ago probably expected the Jazz to be in the second round of these playoffs, or to have grabbed home-court away from Houston. Snyder never conceded anything, though, and the Jazz holdovers from the Hayward years say the franchise has improved even in what was supposed to be a transition year.
“I feel like we’re a better team,” Jazz center Rudy Gobert said.
A look at Friday’s games:
WARRIORS AT PELICANS
Warriors lead 2-0. Game 3, 8 p.m. EDT, ESPN.
NEED TO KNOW: While Warriors star Stephen Curry is back from a five-week injury layoff and is expected to start Game 3, New Orleans looked far more competitive after Curry’s return in Game 2. New Orleans had won nine straight — their last five regular season games and a first-round sweep of third-seeded Portland — before a Game 1, 22-point drubbing. New Orleans regrouped for Game 2 and lost by just five points. “Of course, we wanted to get one up there, but I think the thing that we took out of it was: Game 1, we got punched in the mouth and Game 2 we came back and responded,” Pelicans All-Star forward Anthony Davis said. “We didn’t win, but we showed a lot of great signs — and Game 3 we’ll be back at home.”
KEEP AN EYE ON: Warriors forward Draymond Green and Pelicans guard Rajon Rondo. Both veteran players have demonstrated a proclivity toward engaging in mind games and were nose-to-nose at one point in Game 2. Rondo also grabbed the ball and wiped his sweat on it before one Green’s free throws (which Green made anyway).
INJURY UPDATE: Warriors wing player Patrick McCaw hasn’t played since the end of March because of a lumbar spine bruise. It remains unclear when he’ll be ready. Curry has been back for only one game from his sprained left knee. After scoring 28 points in 27 minutes off the bench on Tuesday night, he appears healthy and ready for an expanded role.
PRESSURE IS ON: The Pelicans — even if Davis denies his team is worried about the prospect of a virtually insurmountable 3-0 series deficit to the defending champs.
ROCKETS AT JAZZ
Series tied 1-1. Game 3, 10:30 p.m. EDT, ESPN.
NEED TO KNOW: Adversity, meet the Rockets. A team that had winning streaks of 11, 14 and 17 games in the regular season has now ceded home-court advantage to the Jazz. It’s not panic time for the NBA’s No. 1 overall seed yet — it’s only 1-1 — but Houston must expect Mitchell to shoot better at home in Game 3 than he did on the Rockets’ home floor in Game 2.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Jazz F Joe Ingles. He has been superb in these playoffs, with three 20-point games already (as compared to having only two in the final two months of the regular season). The Aussie is playing with enormous confidence right now.
INJURY UPDATE: Jazz PG Ricky Rubio (hamstring) remains out.
PRESSURE IS ON: Utah. The Jazz know all they’ve done is win one game. Giving the series lead back to Houston in Game 3 would make the challenge of knocking off the Rockets incredibly daunting.
AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed.