HOUSTON (ABC4 Sports) – In the end, injuries caught up with the Utah Jazz.
Already without point guards Ricky Rubio and Dante Exum, Donovan Mitchell went down midway through the fourth quarter with a foot injury after scoring 22 points in the third, and the Jazz season came to an end with a 112-102 loss to the Houston Rockets in Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals.
Chris Paul scored a playoff career-high 41 points with eight 3-pointers to finally reach the conference finals for the first time in his career, on a night when James Harden struggled, scoring 18 points on 7 of 22 shooting.
Trailing by eight points at the half, Mitchell exploded in the third quarter, matching his own franchise playoff record with 22 points, as the Jazz took a 78-75 lead into the final quarter.
But midway through the fourth, Mitchell bumped legs with Harden, who stole the ball and took it down for a breakaway bucket, while Mitchell had to be helped off the floor. X-rays were negative, but Mitchell was unable to return to the game.
“It was similar to what happened in Game 1 against OKC where I did the same thing,” Mitchell said about his injury. “It was pretty much the same feeling. Even thought I was out, I can’t just sit in the back. I wanted to be there with my teammates throughout the entire thing. It’s tough sitting there watching, but they fought and they competed.”
The top-seeded Rockets led by eight points after a 3-pointer by Paul with about six minutes left. The Jazz scored the next seven points, highlighted by a 3-pointer from Royce O’Neale, before Paul made eight quick points to push Houston’s lead to 105-96 with three minutes to remaining.
“They’re a great team,” said Joe Ingles, who had 12 points and 6 assists. “They’ve got a lot of weapons, and you’ve got to pick and choose different things to play the game with. We executed and did a reasonable job, but they played well.”
P.J. Tucker scored a playoff career-best 19 points, and James Harden added 18 points on 7 of 22 shooting.
The Jazz were without Ricky Rubio and Dante Exum because of hamstring injuries. Rubio has missed the entire series with his injury, and Exum was injured in the third quarter of Game 5.
Mitchell’s huge third quarter left the Jazz up by 3 to begin the fourth. Derrick Favors made a layup for Utah to start the final quarter before Paul and P.J. Tucker hit consecutive 3-pointers to put Houston back on top 81-80 with about 10 minutes left.
Utah regained the lead on a basket by O’Neale before Houston used an 11-5 spurt, with the first five points from Gerald Green, to take a 92-87 lead with about seven minutes left. Harden capped the run with a dunk after stealing the ball from Mitchell. Mitchell was injured on that play and grabbed his left leg. He had to be helped to the bench and was quickly taken to the locker room with the help of two people.
Alec Burks scored 22 points off the bench, while O’Neale added 17.
From starting the year with a 19-28 record to making it to the Western Conference Semifinals, the Jazz were still very proud of what they accomplished this season.
“This is as grateful as I’ve been, the time that I’ve been doing this, to be a part of a team that has had the resiliency and toughness to compete the way they have all year,” said head coach Quin Snyder. “I don’t think our team has ever really looked at what we can’t do. It’s more of what we can do.”
“You’ve got young guys, older guys and as you can see, we all got along and played well together,” said O’Neale. “A couple injuries set us back, but looking forward, I think we have a great team and we’re just going to build off of it.”
“It’s been amazing,” added Gobert, who scored 12 points and pulled down 9 rebounds. “No one had us making the playoffs, to fighting for a spot to the Western Conference Finals. So, I’m so proud of what we accomplished as a team and as a group.”