As expected, the Rockets blew past the Jazz in Game Five of their semifinal-round matchup. Once Ricky Rubio went down with a strained left hamstring in the previous series and had to stay in the sidelines for the duration of the best-of-seven affair, the outcome was essentially sealed. The West top seeds simply had too much firepower coming in to be overcome by their offense-challenged opponents. In fact, a sweep was a distinct possibility, and, as things turned out, prevented only by a hard-to-replicate combine of homecourt advantage, a career night from unlikely gunner Joe Ingles, and balanced scoring that included contributions from an engaged Rudy Gobert.
True, the Jazz expected to do much better yesterday. Facing elimination and having suffered from double-digit losses in Games One, Three, and Four, they steeled themselves for a resolute last stand in hostile territory. And, to their credit, they managed to stay close for much of the set-to. Unfortunately, the injury bug hit them hard anew; Rookie of the Year candidate Donovan Mitchell checked out of the court halfway through the fourth quarter due to an ailing left leg, and his failure to return all but doomed them. He was certainly active in the previous period, scoring 22 of his 24 points to help the navy and gold keep pace.
Considering how well the Rockets played, though, Mitchell’s presence until the very end may not have mattered, anyway. For one thing, Game Five featured future Hall-of-Famer Chris Paul at his level best; by the time the battlesmoke cleared, he had put up a career-high 41 markers on 22 shots to go with 10 dimes and seven boards, the first player in National Basketball Association history to post the aforesaid numbers without registering a single turnover. And he certainly did the most damage in the crunch; after the Jazz scored seven straight to whittle down their deficit to one, he went on a personal 10-point run to disabuse them of any comeback notions.
From the outside looking in, it’s fitting to appreciate Paul’s virtuoso act in the context of his previous failures. For all his skills, the knock on him was that he couldn’t crack the conference finals. Needless to say, his play yesterday ensured the end of his dubious streak, and, with it, any lingering thoughts of his inability to share the limelight with presumptive Most Valuable Player James Harden. Up next for the nine-time All-Star and the Rockets: a date with the Warriors, a certified humdinger that he will, no doubt, be making his mark in as well.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994.