(Photo credit: USA TODAY Sports via Reuters/Russell Isabella)
The Houston Rockets are on the brink of the Western Conference Finals after winning Game 4, 100-87, to claim a 3-1 series lead over the Utah Jazz. It wasn’t the most convincing offensive performance from the Rockets. James Harden had a somewhat unimpressive line of 24 points on 8-of-22 shooting (1-of-7 on 3-pointers) with three assists. However, Chris Paul picked up the slack on the offense with 27 points, 12 rebounds, and six assists. Meanwhile, the defense played well enough for the offense not to matter. Big man Clint Capela was immense as he anchored the Houston defense en route to 15 rebounds, 12 points, six blocks, and two steals.
As for the Jazz, they look cooked. That suffocating Rockets defense reduced them to just 38.6 percent shooting from the field and a mere 24 percent from downtown. Rookie Donovan Mitchell had another rough shooting night as he finished with 25 points on 8-of-24 from the field. Jae Crowder, who got the start in place of Derrick Favors, was also awful as he went just 1-of-11. And to add more injury to the insult, Dante Exum followed Ricky Rubio on the sideline with his own hamstring injury and has been ruled out of Game 5.
Three keys to the game
Donovan Mitchell - Does Mitchell have one more great game in him? After a remarkable rookie season, Mitchell has been shackled up pretty tightly by the Rockets’ switching defense. He’s averaging a mere 18 points on 32.5 percent shooting this series. If the Jazz even have a prayer of extending this series further, Mitchell will somehow need to come up with one more outstanding offensive game.
Rockets defense - But obviously, doing so will be much easier said than done as the Rockets have pretty handily shut down the Jazz offense in three out of the first four games. Big man Clint Capela has been huge in their switching system completely shutting down Utah from the perimeter, and has also consistently shut the door on them inside. A raucous Houston home crowd, along with the prospect of going to the conference finals, should sufficiently fuel the Rockets defense in Game 5.
3-point shooting - Apart from Mitchell, just about the only hope the Jazz have of taking Game 5 is if they get hot on 3-pointers. Mitchell, Joe Ingles, and Crowder combined to go just 5-of-21 from downtown in Game 4, which obviously won’t cut it. On the flipside, though, the Rockets themselves haven’t been shooting the lights out, and could very well get hot just in time to close the Jazz out.
Matchup to watch
Donovan Mitchell vs Chris Paul - Mitchell will have it all to do for the Jazz to win, which is a feeling Paul knows all too well. The Rockets veteran has had another stellar series on both ends of the court, and is now on the cusp of his first-ever trip to the conference finals. With such a precious milestone on the line, look for Paul to set the tone for the whole Rockets team in this closeout opportunity.
Jazz projected starting lineup
PG - Donovan Mitchell | SG - Royce O’Neale | SF - Joe Ingles | PF - Jae Crowder | C - Rudy Gobert
Rockets projected starting lineup
PG - Chris Paul | SG - James Harden | SF - Trevor Ariza | PF - PJ Tucker | C - Clint Capela
Apart from his awful Game 3, Ingles has arguably been the Jazz’s most consistent fantasy player. The Aussie is averaging 15 points, five boards and three assists, but he showed in Game 2 that he can explode for a big shooting game even on the road. If there’s anyone besides Mitchell who’s capable of putting together a huge fantasy night, it’s Jingles.
As for the Rockets, Capela just continues to prove that he is, in fact, one of the elite big men in the entire league. Over the last two games, he has recorded an insane ten blocks and four steals. He’s now averaging 15 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks and over one steal in the series. Don’t be surprised if he adds one more big game at home to end the series.
The Rockets should have this one in the bag. Their defense has pretty comfortably shut down the Jazz in three of the four games, while the trio of Harden, Paul, and Capela has been more than enough to carry the offense. Houston would love nothing more than to end this series in front of their home fans, and that’s exactly what they do, while covering as 12-point favorites.
The Rockets move on to the next round in style as they reel off a 115-98 win over the Jazz.
This game will be broadcast on TNT. Tip-off is at 8:00 pm Eastern.