SALT LAKE CITY — On the brink of elimination, the spirit around the Utah Jazz’s Monday shootaround wasn’t somber, but more so optimistic among the group.
Sure, no team has ever recovered from a 0-3 deficit in an NBA playoff series, but Donovan Mitchell promised that the Jazz wouldn’t just “lay over” following the Game 3 loss.
“It’s an uphill battle, but we’re not just going to lay over and give them a game. That’s not who we are,” Mitchell said.
Jazz center Rudy Gobert doubled down on that declaration as the team responded with a 107-91 win versus Houston to avoid a first-round postseason sweep.
“It’s pride every night. You don’t want to lose,” said Gobert, who ended with nine rebounds, four points and three swats. “Every night you want to come out ready and try to get a win. Like I said, the goal is to win a championship.
“Obviously, it’s a very good team but if we want to be the best team, we’ve got to beat the best teams,” he continued. “Every night is a different challenge for us and it’s an opportunity for us to get better and to learn from it.”
Reigning MVP James Harden heated up in the third with 12 of his team-high 30 points off three treys with Houston up 79-76 entering the fourth, but the home support seemed to boost Mitchell in the final 12 minutes as the Jazz ended on a 31-12 run to outlast Houston.
Mitchell nailed back-to-back 3s, plus flushed in a one-handed alley-oop jam in transition from Royce O’Neale at 4:13 en route to posting 19 of his 31 points, seven rebounds and four assists during the final period.
The Jazz still trail 3-1 in the series as they head back to Houston for Game 5 on Wednesday, but Jae Crowder reminded the sellout Vivint Arena crowd that, “I got heart!” while pointing to his chest after a steal on James Harden followed by an and-one layup through contact over P.J. Tucker. That play gave the Jazz a 10-point edge with four minutes left in the second quarter as Crowder also scored 18 of his 23 points in the first half as Utah led 53-47 at halftime.
In Games 1-3 combined, Crowder scored just 19 total points on 4-for-21 shooting. For the second consecutive game, Jazz coach Quin Snyder gave him the starting nod over Derrick Favors and he posted the Jazz’s first nine points while starting 5-for-5 from the field to give Utah an early spark.
Entering the game, the Jazz were shooting 40.1 percent from the field and 25.5% from 3 as a team. Crowder was connecting on just 19% of his attempts, while Joe Ingles wasn’t much better with 23.5% from 3, which were way down from their season averages. Utah shot 43% on Monday night but held Houston to 35.4%.
Ricky Rubio also contributed 18 points with 11 assists to Houston guard Chris Paul’s 23 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.
Harden didn’t miss 15 attempts before hitting a field goal like he did in Game 3 but made four turnovers in the first half while primarily being guarded by O’Neale. Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni admitted before the tipoff that Harden’s previous offensive struggles during the third victory was a confidence booster to the team, but certainly wasn’t something they wanted to happen again.12 comments on this story
“I’ll ask James (Harden) not to go 0 for 15 (shooting), so we will try and adjust there,” D’Antoni said during his pregame press conference. “We play our style and we do what we do. It’s going to come down to defense again.”
Once the final buzzer sounded, the fans were so loud at Vivint Arena that Crowder could barely get through his postgame interview with sideline reporter Kristen Kenney. Crowder and the Jazz won’t have that support in Houston, but it propelled them to keep their season alive for at least another game.
“We’ll try to make it back to Utah,” Crowder declared before stepping away. "We'll make it back."