The Utah Jazz may be overmatched and overpowered in this series, but they refused to become the next team swept out of the playoffs. Playing for their playoff lives and mostly for pride, they gave their fans a treat at home beating the Houston Rockets with a brilliant fourth quarter.
For the first time all series, Houston’s shooters went cold missing shot after shot after shot. They went 4-20 from the field and 0-13 from three in the fourth quarter. The Rockets were outrebounded 18 to 7 as Derrick Favors had almost as many rebounds (6) in the fourth as Houston did (7).
Donovan Mitchell had a huge game—31 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists—but this game was won by the strong defensive effort of Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors. Those two gave up the pride of playing in the big time minutes and allowed each one to have their moments in this game. Another big man who came to play was Jae Crowder.
Jae Crowder who was starting in place of Derrick Favors had 23 points and was 3 of 8 from 3. Most importantly, his defense was invaluable as Utah has finally seem to have found the levers to jam in Houston’s offense. The defensive strategy that almost looked like a YouTube mockery of how to guard James Harden looks fully weaponized. Utah at times last night appeared to know where the release would be on every James Harden drive and decision. This was a continuation of Game 3 where Utah’s defense looked to have figured it out, but in Game 3, Utah lacked the offensive punch.
Tonight in Game 4, Utah got that punch, but they were also gifted something new. Houston’s shooting percentages finally regressed to the mean. Houston’s hot shooting saw the other side of the curve for the first time all series.
James Harden still got his—scoring 30 points on 19 shots—but he had 8 turnovers to 4 assists. Utah was forcing him into mistake after mistake. Chris Paul had 4 turnovers to 7 assists. Even bigger from Utah is somehow Clint Capela had become unplayable last night. He was 1 of 6 from the field and out-rebounded by 4 different Utah Jazz players, two of them guards. Houston decided to throw PJ Tucker out at the 5 and that just made things worse as Utah punished Houston for putting a smaller player on Favors or Gobert by either dumping the ball inside for the easier bucket or a trip to the free throw line. The size down low exacerbated the already terrible problem of being outrebounded.
Now for the bad.
While this game was amazing and Utah gave their home crowd a victory, this felt more like Houston getting cocky. Utah has figured some of Houston’s habits out to an amazing degree. Quin Snyder and his coaching staff deserve the highest respect for sticking to their strategy of James Harden and perfecting it. But the ultimate opportunity to grab the win came from Houston missing some absolutely wide open shots. Take a look at these wide open opportunities by Eric Gordon and PJ Tucker.
Even though the Houston Rockets went ice cold in that 4th quarter they still shot 37% from three. The key in this game was the interior defense and the failure to rebound in this game. For as many turnovers that James Harden and Chris Paul had, Houston only finished with one more turnover than Utah (15 to 14). This game had the feeling of the villain expounding on his evil plan a little too much and letting his guard down.
Now that Utah has a little hope in them, there’s still some issues they’ve got to fix.
Joe Ingles and Kyle Korver have been no shows in this series. Korver only play 1:40 last night and Joe Ingles had only 3 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists. He had a Royce O’Neale line rather than a Joe Ingles line. The Splash Uncles have become Splash Great Uncles. Father Time has come for what he is owed from both of them. If those two—supposedly Utah’s best floor spacers—are a no show for one more game, the Utah Jazz will have just delayed the inevitable with their win in Utah.
With Ingles and Korver missing, the Jazz have had to rely on the three point shooting of Mitchell, Crowder, O’Neale, and Rubio. While Mitchell, Crowder, and O’Neale have had their moments from beyond the arc, Rubio has not. He his shooting 20% from three in this series. The Spanish Samurai is playing with all of the heart he can muster, but is close to being decommissioned from beyond the arc.
What makes this series so difficult is Utah’s best players in this series have been Donovan Mitchell, Derrick Favors, and Rudy Gobert. Two of those three players basically play the same position which leaves Utah unable to seize on the plus value they bring night in and night out. The template for another upset win next game then is pretty simple. If Utah can keep up their defensive intensity, keep Mitchell-Favors-Gobert rolling, and have Joe Ingles and Kyle Korver FINALLY make an appearance in this series, then—and only then—Utah has a chance to steal one on the road.
The Utah Jazz have an insanely tough road ahead, and at this moment, Game 4 was about pride. The pride of not allowing a sweep to occur in Salt Lake City. At the same time, this is mostly the same team that came back dead in the water a season ago midseason to make the playoffs. They have risen from the dead before. Maybe they can do it again.