Houston • Donovan Mitchell sat on a folding chair, a towel around his waist, his back to the rest of the room, his eyes staring straight ahead into his locker, searching for answers that weren’t there.
Coach Quin Snyder approached him — suit jacket off, shirt sleeves rolled up — and kneeled down, leaned in, spoke quietly to him for a few minutes, patted him on the shoulder, stood up and walked away.
Mitchell remained still for a few more moments, then exhaled deeply, and began to get dressed.
That’s all there was left to do. The game, the first-round series, and the Jazz’s season, for that matter, were now over, all the victims of a 100-93 Rockets victory on Wednesday night at the Toyota Center.
By the time Mitchell came to the media podium a few minutes later, he’d managed to find a bit of perspective, praising his teammates for continuing to battle throughout a series they lost four games to one.
“Man, I can’t say enough about everyone. We were underdogs — nothing new for us. Most teams, when they go down 2-0 the way we went down 2-0, most teams call it quits,” he said. “We have guys from top to bottom, coming in, making plays, fighting, competing, yelling and screaming — whatever we gotta do to win. You don’t get that on every team. Even down 3-0, we came out and fought. We’ve got some dogs on this team.”
They just didn’t have enough shot-makers, though.
Shooting proved to be a series-long problem, and the same was true this time around. The Jazz wound up making only 37.2% of their field-goal attempts, and again could not get going from beyond the 3-point arc, converting just 9 of 38 tries (23.7%).
“The shots aren’t gonna fall every night. This series, we got a lot of open shots that didn’t fall. It could have gone the other way and everyone would be praising what we did defensively,” said Rudy Gobert. “At the end of the day, in basketball, you’ve got to put the ball in the basket, and they did a better job doing that than we did.”
ROCKETS 100, JAZZ 93
• Houston closes out the first-round series in five games, eliminating Utah for a second consecutive season.
• The Jazz shoot just 37.2% from the field and 23.7% from 3-point range.
• Utah had chances to go ahead in the final minute, but airballed a 3-pointer and followed with consecutive turnovers.
And so, having staved off elimination in Monday’s Game 4 at Vivint Smart Home Arena, Utah could not manage the same feat this time, though the team had its chances.
After rallying back from 12 down in the third period, and taking the lead in the fourth, the Jazz simply couldn’t manage to execute enough plays down the stretch.
With chances to go back ahead in the final minute and a half, Ricky Rubio airballed a 3-pointer, Mitchell turned it over, and Gobert — driving in for a dunk — had the ball stripped away.
From there, the Rockets made enough plays and enough free throws to seal the deal.
The Jazz made it tough throughout with another stellar defensive effort. MVP candidate James Harden scored 26 points, but needed 26 shots to do it, and made only 10. Chris Paul was held in check through three quarters, but — in a scene reminiscent of last year’s playoff series — wound up scoring nine of his 15 points in the final period.
Houston’s overall numbers weren’t pretty either, but the Rockets did manage to make a few more buckets than the Jazz did — shooting 44.4% overall and hitting 13 shots from deep at a 35.1% clip.
Mitchell, meanwhile, after coming up the hero last time around to extend the series, couldn’t get anything going Wednesday, totaling only 12 points on 4-for-22 shooting, including 0 of 9 from deep. He also committed five turnovers and had only one assist.
“It’s tough — we had the lead, they came back, we were down one, and a few shots didn’t fall,” he said. “We fought with heart, we fought hard, we can’t hang our heads on that.”
Royce O’Neale had arguably his best game of the series, coming off the bench to score a team-best 18 points on 8-for-13 shooting, while adding five rebounds, and harassing Harden all night long. Rubio (17 points, 11 assists) and Jae Crowder (15 points, 10 boards) contributed double-doubles.
This Jazz season began with a sense of déjà vu, as the team returned most of its roster from the season prior. It ended on an eerily familiar note, too, with Utah going down to the Rockets in five games for a second consecutive season.
Once it was all over, after congratulating the Rockets for their victory, and praising his own players for continuing to fight, Snyder was left to sum it all up.
“Obviously,” he concluded, “tonight we didn’t have enough.”
After forcing a stop late in the game, the Jazz went down with a chance to take the lead. But Ricky Rubio hesitated on an open 3, and wound up airmailing it.
23.7 • Utah’s series-long problem didn’t go away in Game 5, as the team hit only 9 of 38 tries from deep — a 23.7% conversion rate
The Jazz’s 2018-19 season is over.