Donovan Mitchell

USA Today

The Rockets Blew It

Houston is the one team that can legitimately say the sooner we get the Warriors, the better.

April 23, 2019 - 11:27 am
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Last night was supposed to be the night the Houston Rockets closed out the Utah Jazz to get ready for the Golden State Warriors. Last night was supposed to be the time where the Rockets finished their light work and got onto the real work.

But it wasn’t. Utah came out liked the wounded animal they are, battling to stay alive. The same way that the Pistons did against the Bucks. You don’t want to get swept and you definitely don’t want to get swept at home.

But the Rockets were supposed to handle this the way that the Bucks did. Granted, Utah is a much better team than Detroit, but Houston was looking to shut this down and then shut it down. Get this series over and then get some rest.

And that seemed to be what was going to happen when James Harden dropped Jae Crowder in the second quarter.

HE PUT HIM IN THE GROUND

Man, Crowder was having one of the best games of his career, but he hit the deck like he needed a Life Alert button.

And yes, if you’re a Utah fan, you’re looking for Harden to get called for a push off, but Harden didn’t get whistled. Probably because he routinely puts people on the ground. Normally, you see a grown man like Crowder hit the deck like that, with his hands up, and you’re blowing the whistle out of shock more than anything else.

It used to be that you would see that and you’d be screaming “Cleanup on aisle 3! CLEANUP ON AISLE 3! Someone call someone because there’s a cleanup on aisle 3 as a man is down!”

But Harden does that with such regularity, it’s like, yep, well, that will happen.

Houston was down nine at that point in the second quarter. They got closer before the end of the half and then ripped off a 10-2 run to start the third and take the lead. At that point, it seemed like it was over. Utah’s pride and dignity were, for the most part, still intact, they were just totally outclassed.  Not totally trashed mmmmmmm. Totally outclassed…, they just weren’t good enough. Houston was going to move on and get their rest.

But then Donovan Mitchell took over. The guy who’d taken heat for how he’d played in this series went off. 19 of his 31 in the fourth quarter, including this monster moment.

DONOVANNNNNN!!!!!

That dunk didn’t just bring down the house, that dunk snapped the brooms. There would be no sweep. We’re going back to Houston for Game 5.

Nothing but respect for Utah. It would’ve been so much easier to just lay down. And die. To do what a lot of teams in that position do: fight for three quarters and then fold. To realize that losing last night means they don’t have to pack their bags and fly to Houston, they can just go home now and sleep in their own beds. But they didn’t do that. They extended the series. And they’re talking like they have big plans, big plans to cause big problems.

That’s not to say that Houston is in trouble. I’m not going to say that. Nor am I going to point out that Houston looked really tired in that fourth quarter when they were outscored 31-12. Or that Chris Paul appeared to be getting frustrated, was barely moving on defense late in the game, and was spending a lot of time bent at the waist, tugging on his shorts.

Houston is going to have to expend energy than they wanted to, but Houston is going to win this series. We know this. And the Jazz know this. No team with James Harden, in his prime, is blowing a 3-0 lead.  .

So this isn’t about this series, it’s about the next series.

And a huge issue for Houston in previous playoff runs has been the fact that their key guys wear down and break down. But this year, it felt different. They were going to get Golden State in the second round, so they’d be fresher. Golden State lost a game in the first round, so the Warriors had to work a little harder. And Houston was on pace for a sweep. It was all coming up Rockets, until last night.

They blew it last night. And they didn’t choke Utah out while they had the chance, because it looked like they were…wait for it…wearing down in the fourth quarter. Now they have to play an extra game and get less rest. That’s not going to hurt them in this series. But it might in the next one. Houston is the one team that can legitimately say the sooner we get the Warriors, the better. But they just made it that much harder on themselves. Should have choked Utah out when they the chance: last thing you want to do is let them stick around any longer, give them any reason to believe and take any more additional punishment before the real fight.