Utah staved off elimination Monday night with a victory over a Houston team that went cold when it mattered most, but they still face an impossible task.
For three quarters, it didn’t matter that the Utah Jazz were the team that came out with more urgency, more intensity, and far more like the one down 0-3 in this series. Houston, with its barrage of 3-pointers, was still too much for the Jazz, even though it seemed like the Rockets were only mildly interested for much of the night.
And then, finally, Houston hit a speed bump.
The Jazz went on a decisive 19-5 run to turn a three-point deficit entering the fourth quarter into an 11-point lead. The Rockets had flashbacks of Game 7 in last year’s Western Conference Finals, missing 13 straight triples, including all 12 in the final frame.
Utah was far from perfect, but they finally got enough from their star – and enough misses from Houston — that it didn’t matter. They live to see another day.
People will make this all about Donovan Mitchell. And that’s fine. He was good, finally, and the Jazz are a team that desperately needs him to play well for them to have any chance. He scored 19 in the fourth quarter, seven more than the entire Rockets team, and his three 3-pointers early in the period helped change the tone of the game. But neither he nor his team were anywhere near good enough to beat Houston if the latter is hitting on all cylinders. For as great as Mitchell’s final quarter was, it still took him 26 shots to get to his 31 points. Joe Ingles and Rudy Gobert (seven points combined), meanwhile, continue to struggle.
Really, tonight was about what Houston didn’t do. Coming into the fourth, the Rockets had at least 22 points in all 15 quarters they played in this series against a Utah defense that was ranked second in the league during the regular season. They scored just 12 in the fourth. As Mike D’Antoni said following the game, “we were ok until the last quarter and were just awful at the end,” also pointing out how the Jazz played desperate while Houston didn’t come out focused. That the Rockets may very well have still won the game had they simply hit a few more open looks speaks to just how good they really are. Harden in particular (30 points on 19 shots) was back to his old self after a dreadful Game 3.
Still, this was a statement to Utah’s character. Earlier in the night, the Pistons got swept off their home floor with a 23-point loss to the Bucks. Yesterday, the Pacers couldn’t avoid a fourth straight defeat against Boston. Neither of those teams is as talented as the Jazz are, but Utah had every excuse to lay down and die, especially after seemingly giving the Rockets their best shot and still entering the fourth quarter trailing. Credit to them for not giving up, and to Jae Crowder (23 points) and Ricky Rubio (18, including several “get out of my way” drives to the rim in the first half) especially for keeping them in the game early.