Following a lethargic first half Monday night, the Rockets came out in the third quarter and buried 8 of 12 attempts from deep, surged ahead of the Jazz, and sent the Vivint Smart Home Arena faithful reeling in disbelief.
Game over. Series over. The Rockets would head back to Houston for a couple days before moving on to face the Warriors. The Jazz would be cleaning out their lockers, their once-promising season over much sooner than anyone would have thought even just a few weeks prior.
Except there were 12 minutes left. Twelve minutes in which the Jazz scored the first seven points, 15 of the first 16, 19 of the first 24. With just over 4 minutes remaining, Donovan Mitchell swiped the ball from James Harden, tossed it to Royce O’Neale for a 2-on-1 fast break, reached skyward for the too-high alley-oop pass, somehow caught it, threw it down, and sent the Vivint Smart Home Arena faithful into absolute ecstasy.
By the time the 31-12 fourth-quarter blitz was over, the Jazz had prevailed 107-91, avoiding elimination, trimming their first-round series deficit to 3-1, and keeping hope alive.
Instead of the Rockets returning to Houston for some rest, both teams will be heading back for Game 5 on Wednesday night.
“I think that is who we are. We’ve had our backs against the wall plenty of times in the past two years we’ve been together as a team. I think it is familiar ground with us,” Mitchell said. “I think everybody responded the way we expected them to. But the biggest thing for us is to take what we did today and multiply it, because I think we can play even better.”
JAZZ 107, ROCKETS 91
• The Jazz rally back in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Rockets 31-12 to avoid elimination and extend the series to a fifth game.
• Donovan Mitchell hits key back-to-back treys in the final period, where he scores 19 of his 31 points.
• James Harden scores 30 for the Rockets, but commits eight of Houston’s 16 turnovers.
Mitchell scored 19 of his 31 points in the fourth, and added seven rebounds, and four assists. Jae Crowder totaled 23 points, four boards, and two steals. Ricky Rubio contributed 18 points and 11 assists. Derrick Favors, who closed the game in place of reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, notched 12 points and 11 rebounds off the bench.
Harden led Houston with 30 points, but committed eight turnovers. Chris Paul added 23 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists.
Following the comeback, coach Quin Snyder was pleased with his team’s mental fortitude, noting that in spite of some rough patches, they never stopped fighting.
“There are things you can control and things you can’t — you can always control how well you compete,” he said. “And we were able to continue to compete.”
Crowder, who started in place of Favors for a second straight game, got both the Jazz and the crowd energized early, roaring out to score Utah’s first nine points, and 12 of its first 14.
At one point in the second quarter, he anticipated Harden’s path heading downcourt, stepped in, ripped the ball away, bulldozed into the lane, drew contact, and flipped the shot in, before leaning into the stands and delivering high-fives to the frenzied masses.
He wound up with 18 at the break, while Rubio had 15 points — helping to make up for a slow start from Mitchell, who had only six at halftime on 2-for-7 shooting.
“I just wanted to come out with a good start, bring energy,” said Crowder. “When you bring energy, it makes it much easier for everybody. I think we lacked that through a few games.”
While the Rockets were hitting just 35.7% from the field in the first half, they were only down five points — in large part thanks to the 3-point discrepancy. After starting 4 of 6 from deep, Utah finished the half by missing its final nine attempts. Houston, meanwhile, connected on 9 of 21 from beyond the arc (42.9%), which went a long way toward making up for 10 first-half turnovers.
As for the Jazz, their continued long-distance struggles, in concert with poor shooting in general (42.5%) were offset by a 15-for-18 performance at the free-throw line.
Still, there was always the sense Houston was lurking, that a comeback was inevitable. It didn’t take long.
Between the Rockets suddenly getting to the line, and their 3-point barrage continuing unabated, the momentum shifted early in the second half. Eric Gordon drilled a pair from deep early, and Harden added three freebies as the Rockets started the quarter on a 10-2 run to take a 57-55 lead. In the opening 5 minutes of the third quarter alone, Houston was 4 of 5 from deep and 4 of 5 from the line.
The Jazz actually had some success from deep in the period — doubling up their first-half total by making four in the third alone. That was more than mitigated by the Rockets finishing the quarter 8 for 12 from beyond the arc to take a 79-76 advantage into the final 12 minutes.
If the Jazz were supposed to give up then and there, though, someone forgot to tell them.
“They went 8 for  from 3-point range in the third quarter? And we were down three going into the fourth. I felt pretty good about that,” Crowder said. “It was like a haymaker, they were trying to knock us out. But we stood tall and took the punch and came out ready to play in the fourth quarter. I felt like it was their best punch of the game — 8 for [12 from deep] out of halftime. And we were standing.”
Some stellar defensive sequences followed, as Royce O’Neale hounded Harden on the perimeter and Favors bullied the Rockets in the paint. The result? Houston went 0 for 13 from deep in the fourth.
As for the Jazz on offense, they began the final period on a 7-0 run — capped by a beautiful spin move and floater from Mitchell — to go back in front 83-79 with 10:20 to play.
Moments later, a Mitchell 3-pointer went in, went out, touched every part of the rim, and finally dropped through. His next attempt was nothing but net. The comeback was on.
And a few minutes later, so too was Game 5.
Donovan Mitchell hits back-to-back 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to spur Utah’s comeback.
0 • After going 8 for 12 on 3-pointers in the third quarter, the Rockets make zero in the fourth, going 0 for 13.
Utah’s next attempt at avoiding elimination comes in Game 5 on Wednesday in Houston.