SALT LAKE CITY — Down on their luck, short on ideas, backs to the wall, the Utah Jazz took back their space, Monday in Game 4 of the NBA Playoffs.
They made their home their favorite place again.
Odds are still heavily in Houston’s favor as the series moves back to the Bayou City for Wednesday’s contest. But at least home felt right for one night, a 107-91 Jazz win.
They were owning their house.
That’s not the guarantee it once was.
Now they can work on getting comfortable in someone else’s.
The Jazz take a 3-1 deficit to Houston, hoping to make history. After shooting poorly throughout the series, it was questionable what they would bring to Game 4.
“We start making them, it’s going to feel better,” coach Quin Snyder said beforehand.
By late Monday, he was feeling juuuuust fine.
“I don’t think there’s nerves,” Snyder added.
Not if a 14-point first-quarter lead had anything to do with it.
Before Monday, the Jazz had conceded six straight playoff games, four at home.
There’s no safe space when the Houston Rockets are in town.
Losing wouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone, Jazz included. Kyle Korver admitted at Sunday’s practice that being down 3-0 in a best-of-seven series is impossible to ignore.
“No. It’s not possible,” he said. “You know you’re down 3-0.”
And you know you’re down 4-0 when your travel agent texts and says, “I’ve got your cabana booked.”
After three years of finishing fifth in the regular season, and flirting with a first-round playoff loss this year, there was suspicion that this iteration of the Jazz was becoming the Dean Cain of basketball.
Long ago they felt like, well, Superman.
Next thing you know you’re starring in “The Dog Who Saved Christmas.”
The Jazz’s shooting troubles continued throughout the first two games. Houston wasn’t making them either, Saturday, and still they won, stretching their lead to a 3-0 series advantage.
But on Monday, the team with the worst 3-point percentage in the playoffs finally launched. Donovan Mitchell scored 19 fourth-quarter points.
After making just one of every four distance shots during the first three games, the Jazz made four of their first six shots in Game 4.
Their chagrin was showing.
Mitchell’s 31 points were the showy part. But Jae Crowder’s 23-point burst and Ricky Rubio’s 18 was met with a wild reception.
The early points came from a pair of unlikely sources: Rubio and Crowder. Rubio was once termed in a newspaper article the “worst shooter in modern NBA history.”
Crowder is mostly muscle. But he had 16 points in the first two quarters.
Over the years, what was once a monumental home-court advantage has diminished. During introductions in both games in Salt Lake, the volume was only moderate compared to the Jazz’s playoff glory days. But as the game picked up, so did the clamor. It got loud enough that Houston’s Austin Rivers called it the loudest crowd he had ever heard on Saturday.
After losing two in Houston to start the series, at least the Jazz were home. And they did pick it up, taking Game 3 into the closing seconds before losing. But they lost, which seldom happened two decades ago.
In Game 4, they took the place back.
Since 1998 — the Jazz franchise’s apex — the Jazz have dwindled as a home-court force. They have had a winning home-court record in four of seven playoff years since 2007. In that time, their overall home-court record has slipped to 18-18.2 comments on this story
Since 2012, in four appearances, the Jazz are just 5-9 in home playoff games.
During their glory years of the late 1990s, they were virtually unbeatable at home. They went 8-1 in 1996, 10-1 in 1997, and 9-2 in 1998. The noise level was commensurate. Loud as it got at the end of Monday’s game, it didn’t match the din that arose in the 1990s. During the Jazz’s NBA Finals years, player introductions couldn’t be heard above crowd noise.
That might happen again, if the Jazz bring it back for a Game 6.