UTAH JAZZ (53-39) at HOUSTON ROCKETS (72-19)
Tip-off: Tuesday, 8:00 p.m. ET
Line: Houston -12, Total: 209
Utah will fight to send the series back to Salt Lake.Headed back home to Utah after stealing a game from the Rockets in Houston, the Jazz appeared to be in good shape after Game 2 of their Western Conference Semifinals series. But the Jazz couldn't get any momentum going at home, losing Games 3 and 4 by an average of 17 points per game to go down 3-1 in the series. Game 4 was hardly a blowout at a final score of 100-87, but the Rockets appeared to mostly be cruising as they controlled the action and held a comfortable lead throughout the second half. And as scary as Houston's offense is, it's their defense that's been carrying them—Utah has scored 96 points or fewer in three of this series' four games. Part of those struggles can be attributed to the absence of PG Ricky Rubio, who went down with an injury in the Game 2 victory. He's questionable to play in Game 5 in Houston on Tuesday. PG Dante Exum hurt his hamstring on Sunday and is doubtful for Tuesday. Over the last five seasons, road underdogs averaging at least 99 PPG on the season (UTAH) are 12-34 ATS against opponents that have led their last two games by double digits at halftime. On the other hand, in the same timeframe, road double-digit underdogs coming off a home double-digit loss and revenging a home loss to their opponent (UTAH) are 48-22 ATS.
With Rubio sidelined, rookie phenom SG Donovan Mitchell has been asked to take on an even bigger portion of the scoring load for Utah. It's simultaneously true that Mitchell has been brilliant, and that he's now being asked to do too much. That was obvious in Game 3, when he scored 10 points on 4-of-16 shooting. It was less obvious in Game 4, when he posted 25 points (8-24 FG), nine rebounds and four steals in 38 minutes before fouling out. After shooting .462 in the first round against OKC, Mitchell is .325 from the floor in four games against Houston. SF Joe Ingles did his best to be a worthy sidekick in G4, finishing with 15 points, eight boards and a team-high four assists. The trickle-down effect of Rubio's injury is that now everyone—not just Mitchell—is being asked to do a little more than they're comfortable with. Ingles had only six points in Game 3 after going off for 27 on 10-of-13 shooting in G2. But Utah's biggest problem—literally—is C Rudy Gobert. While a game-changing presence in the regular season and the likely recipient of the Defensive Player of the Year award, Gobert doesn't look particularly well-suited for modern playoff basketball. He was a staggering minus-27 in 32 minutes in Game 4, 16 points worse than anyone else in the game. He finished with 11 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks. Fs Jae Crowder, Royce O'Neale and Derrick Favors weren't much help, combining for 18 points. (Favors was plus-14, but only saw 16 minutes of action. Crowder shot a dismal 1-of-11 from the field.) With Rubio hobbled (at best), losing Exum really hurts.
Houston C Clint Capela was an absolute beast in Game 4, showing the crowd his best Mutombo impression (complete with a finger wag). He notched a career-high six blocks to go with 12 points and 15 rebounds. His speed in agility make him an ideal fit for Houston's defense—or any defense, really. PG Chris Paul had his best game of the playoffs for the Rockets, scoring a game-high 27 points (12-23 FG) and adding 12 rebounds, six assists and two steals. PG James Harden had an off night offensively, hitting only 8 of 22 shots for 24 points, and turning the ball over eight times while dishing out only three assists. The Rockets having Paul in their back pocket as an elite scorer and distributor for when Harden is struggling (a very relative term here) is very discouraging indeed for opponents. Despite the somewhat poor shooting and the turnovers, Harden was a game-best plus-24, partially thanks to his four steals. SF PJ Tucker was the only other Houston player in double-digit scoring with 11 points; he and Fs Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute form a formidable trio of perimeter defenders. SG Eric Gordon has been inconsistent in these playoffs, with nine points in Game 4 after having scored 25 in Game 3, which was his first 20-plus-point game of the postseason. But that's the beauty of this Houston roster: Even if a couple of players aren't hitting their shots, there's a good chance that three other guys are red hot.