For the third straight game, the Utah Jazz managed to force the Rockets to play their style of game, but as has been the case all too often for Utah in this series, their three-point shooting let them down as Houston put the series to rest with a 100-93 win at home.
After getting blown out in the first two games in Houston, the Jazz regrouped at home in a pair of tightly contested games, with Utah coming from behind in Game 4 to win behind a spectacular performance from Donovan Mitchell. Game 5 followed the script of those two games in Salt Lake, as the Jazz frustrated James Harden and the Rockets offense into inefficient shooting nights, but they were unable to capitalize on that going just 9-of-38 from three-point range.
Houston got just enough from their stars to outlast the Jazz and move on to the second round, without having to worry about another trip to Utah. Harden had 26 points on 10-of-26 shooting, missing nine threes on the night, but had enough burst to keep the Rockets in the lead at crucial moments. Late in the second quarter, with the Jazz up seven, Harden led a 14-3 run in the final three minutes with eight points, including a pair of big three-pointers to give Houston the lead going into halftime.
Harden opened the third quarter hot as well to extend Houston’s advantage and, briefly, it seemed as though the Rockets would put this away with relative ease.
Utah stayed the course, though, and reeled the Rockets back in to make things interesting late.
Poor shooting plagued the Jazz throughout the series, as they missed an unbelievable amount of open shots over the five games. On Monday, it was clear the Rockets’ focus was on making life tough on Mitchell after his Game 4 outburst. The sophomore guard went an abysmal 4-of-22 from the field in Game 5 for just 12 points, as the Rockets swarmed him and made it difficult for him to get to the rim, resulting in him settling for a lot of attempts from the perimeter, where he was 0-of-9.
Even with Mitchell’s struggles and Rudy Gobert being taken away down low in the second half, the Jazz had chances late thanks to the efforts of Jae Crowder, Royce O’Neal, and Ricky Rubio. A Crowder three-pointer made it a one-point game in the final minutes and Ricky Rubio, who was 7-of-14 on the game at that point, got a wide open look at a corner three with just over a minute to play, only to airball it.
It was the painful, yet fitting manifestation of the Jazz’s shooting woes all series, and still it didn’t sink them. P.J. Tucker missed two free throws on the ensuing possession, giving Utah another chance, but Mitchell had the ball poked away, where Tucker corralled it and would make his two free throws on the next opportunity.
Houston now moves on to a likely series with the Warriors and the opportunity to avenge heartbreak from last year’s Western Conference Finals. Like a year ago, it simply may come down to whether the Rockets can shoot well enough. They’ll need to be lights out for five or six games, because Golden State will win a game or two even when you play very well. Last year, they simply went ice cold in Game 7, and it could come down to a similar situation this year.