Houston • Ricky Rubio wore a hoodie inside his blazer. Dante Exum dressed more formal with a full suit and tie.
After the game ended, Donovan Mitchell winced as he pulled on his left sock, drawing it slowly along his injured foot. He then strapped into a boot, and carried his left shoe alongside his pink rookie backpack in hand.
The trio that had to suit up in clothing other than their uniform was a powerful one. It represented a group that could’ve helped change Utah’s fate in a 112-102 season-ending loss, and perhaps in a five-game series in which the Houston Rockets were able to bully past the banged-up Jazz roster.
After all the Jazz had been through this season, didn’t it feel a little like they had been robbed by injuries? Jae Crowder wasn’t buying it.
“Can’t control that,” he said, laughing. “Can’t control injuries. Can’t control shot-making. You can only control your effort and what you put into it. Respect the game, and hopefully get some good out of it.”
The Jazz, most definitely, did not get good out of injuries this postseason.
They piled up, particularly late: Rubio was out for all five games. Derrick Favors was hurt in Game 3, and played limited minutes on a bum left ankle for the last two games. Exum hopped off the floor in Game 4, and from there the Jazz lost their best one-on-one defender on James Harden.
“It’s the NBA. You go through ups and downs,” Favors said. “Sometimes you’re healthy. Sometimes you’re 50 percent. You just gotta find ways to fight through it.”
Even so, they rallied on Tuesday night in Game 5, all the way back into the lead in the third quarter thanks to Mitchell, who torched the court for 22 points in the period.
And then even he fell. He stood at halfcourt hunched over after Harden poked out a steal against him, and he didn’t move until Joe Ingles walked over to ask what was wrong. From there, Mitchell was helped off the floor with training staff members on either arm.
He told reporters postgame that he would be OK, and X-rays came back negative on his left foot. But he refused to believe that his injury was the deciding factor in the game.
“I think we were locked and loaded for the fourth,” he said. “We weren’t trying to go home, that’s basically the mindset, and we all fought.”
Indeed, even without Mitchell as an offensive spark plug, the Jazz brought the game to within a point on a Royce O’Neale 3-pointer with 4:34 to go. From there, Chris Paul took over, scoring 15 points down the stretch.
Were the Jazz happy to have fought despite the adversity? Crowder wasn’t buying that either.
“Nah, no proud moments in losing. No moral victories,” he said. “It comes down to winning and losing. They won, we lost.”