Houston • After falling victim to Donovan Mitchell and a big Jazz blitz in the fourth quarter of Game 4 in Salt Lake City, the Rockets were determined not to let that happen again Wednesday night at the Toyota Center.
They weren’t entirely successful. After all, the Rockets had gone up by as many as 12 points early in the third quarter, only to find themselves trailing 77-75 with less than 10 minutes remaining in the game.
Still, this time, it was Houston’s players that made the big plays down the stretch.
“A lot of things are not going to go your way offensively, and it didn’t for us throughout the whole game. What carried us over was defense,” said Houston’s Eric Gordon. “We made a lot of stops towards the end of the game where they couldn’t score.”
True enough. With 1:32 remaining and Houston clinging to a 94-93 lead, the Jazz came down with a chance to get back in control.
But Ricky Rubio missed a 3-pointer. On the Jazz’s next possession, Gordon stole the ball from Mitchell. On the Jazz’s possession after that, Rudy Gobert was cutting through the lane for what looked like a sure dunk, only to have the ball stripped away by James Harden.
While the Jazz didn’t shoot well all game, the Rockets were at least able to keep it that way in the fourth quarter this time. In Game 4, the Jazz won the fourth quarter by a 31-12 margin; in Game 5, Utah shot only 10 for 26 in the final 12 minutes, and Houston outscored the Jazz 25-24.
“We didn’t make as many shots as we wanted to offensively, but these last few games, we hung our hat on defense,” said Harden. “And that’s what’s going to get us to our goal. … If we’re guarding like we’ve been guarding, and knocking down our shots, it’s going to be pretty tough.”
They knocked down just enough on Wednesday. Chris Paul saw to that.
The veteran point guard entered the fourth quarter with only six points, but dropped nine in the final period. He finished with 15 points, eight rebounds, five assists, and three steals.
He said it was imperative, from his perspective, that the Rockets close things out while they had the chance, and he was doing all he could to avoid a Game 6 back in Salt Lake City.
“When it gets down to it, they know us and we know them, and we don’t want to go back to Utah. Seriously, it got so loud there that last game when I missed that free throw,” Paul said. “We wanted to try to take care of business tonight. All night, we were talking about the energy — we just wanted to pick up the energy because it’s always hard to beat a team and close them out.”
In the end, the Rockets made the plays that mattered, and the Jazz didn’t.
What the Jazz did make was a lasting impression, at least.
“You got to give them credit for the entire series. Every game, they found a way to compete, especially at home,” said Harden. “Even tonight, they just didn’t let up.”