The Rockets came up with several huge stops down the stretch to hold off the Jazz in Game 5 and close out their first-round series.
Houston’s offense has been uncharacteristically average over the past three games but, thanks to their defense and some clutch play from the supporting cast, they were able to win two of three and send the Jazz packing. The final few minutes of Game 5 were a perfect encapsulation of Houston’s ability to win ugly.
With 1:32 remaining on the clock, Ricky Rubio hit a 17-foot jumper to bring the Jazz within one, 94-93. Those were the last points Utah would score — they came up empty on their next five possessions, with Donovan Mitchell missing a three and committing a turnover, and Rubio missing a pair of 3s. Four of those five possessions were followed by desperate fouls sending Houston to the line to build on their lead.
It was an ugly end to the Jazz’s season and an encouraging sign for Rockets fans that they don’t have to win every game by racing their opponents to 120 points.
What a disaster for Donovan Mitchell. With his team’s back to the wall, he shot 4-of-22 from the field, 0-of-9 on 3-pointers and turned the ball over five times. For the series, he took nearly twice as many shots as anyone else on the Jazz and shot 32.1 percent from the field, 25.6 percent on 3s and finished with more turnovers (21) than assists (16). His playoff run last season was an impressive piece of evidence for the case that he could be the primary offensive creator for an elite team. Things might have been different if his teammates had been hitting open shots in this series, but Mitchell looked woefully ill-equipped to handle the load of primary initiator and scoring threat and the Jazz will have a lot of questions to answer this offseason.
The Rockets defense showed up in this series. Their overall ratings look better than reality because the Jazz missed so many open shots, but Houston’s defenders absolutely contributed to Mitchell’s horrific series and they were consistently able to generate impact plays. They finished Game 5 with 12 steals and 12 blocks (including 3 steals and 4 blocks from Harden) and are playing as well as could be expected at that end of the floor, especially with Clint Capela still ill. A matchup with the Warriors looms and defense is going to be huge for Houston. Stopping Golden State is an impossible challenge but they seem ready to at least slow them down.
Did the Jazz reveal a game plan for stopping Harden? It’s hard to imagine any other team (particularly the Warriors or whoever comes out of the East) committing as wholeheartedly to the Jazz’s scheme of playing behind Harden and forcing him right. Still, Harden was nowhere near his peak in this series, shooting under 40 percent from the field and averaging nearly six turnovers per game. If nothing else, the extreme strategy seemed to put him off balance at times and could be a change-of-pace for opponents to throw at him on a crucial possession.