SALT LAKE CITY — A question was asked to no one in particular as four Jazz players sat on the podium.
Donovan Mitchell slowly looked toward Rudy Gobert, Jae Crowder and Derrick Favors — all seated to his left. When they stayed silent, a smile appeared on Mitchell’s face. Of course, he would have to take the lead.
There’s a reason the Jazz trust Mitchell. It’s the reason Kyle Korver was compelled to single out his leadership and resolve after Utah’s Game 3 loss, and a reason why his teammates couldn’t stop praising him on Monday.
It hadn’t mattered that he had struggled to get going all night; he wasn’t going to allow Utah to be swept.
In the first three minutes of the fourth quarter, Mitchell changed the narrative of a game, he altered the story of a series, and he — for at least a night — saved Utah’s season.
With the Jazz down by three, Mitchell started the quarter with a pull-up 3-pointer. He then spun around and nailed a floater. And then he finished off the spurt by drilling back-to-back triples.
He scored 13 points as part of a 15-1 run that helped the Jazz fend off elimination with a 107-91 win over the Houston Rockets in Game 4 Monday at Vivint Arena. The Rockets lead the series 3-1; Game 5 will be in Houston on Wednesday.
Mitchell scored 19 points in the fourth and finished with a game-high 31 points.
“He’s — dear God,” Ricky Rubio said. “We believe in him, and Kyle said it perfectly (on Monday); the way he carries a team is unreal. I don’t want to say again whatever Kyle said, but it’s true.”
The Jazz expect a lot out of their young star, and that what’s made him special. He has not only happily shouldered all of that responsibility, but he has performed even with the ever increasing expectations.
“Me being able to do what I do on a daily basis is not the norm,” Mitchell said. “In this league, a second-year guy — even a first-year guy last year, and my teammates have had my back with every mistake and everything I’ve done well. When you have the support system — and not just my teammates, my coaches and the organization — that support system in that locker room every day, it makes it easier.”
He made difficult things look easy in the fourth quarter on Monday. He drove for scoop layups, hit deep 3s and finished an alley-oop from Royce O’Neale after somehow, someway getting high enough to catch it with one hand to slam it home.
He carried the Jazz to the finish line.
“That was what Donovan does,” Georges Niang said. “He’s done a great job of being that guy, that catalyst that brings us from down to being up, and then sealing it up. That’s his M.O. — his spider-sense, I guess.
“I couldn’t be more happy to be on a team with him.”
The Rockets, and specifically Eric Gordon, had done a marvelous job limiting Mitchell through three quarters. Mitchell had struggled to turn the corner and finish at the rim on drives, and he hadn’t quite found his deep shot either.
And with Utah continuing its series-long trend of struggling to shoot (though the 11-of-24 3-point performance was an improvement), it looked like the Jazz's season was soon to be over. Utah had seen a 14-point first-half lead evaporate to a three-point deficit entering the final quarter, and then Mitchell changed things quickly.
With the season a quarter away from ending and a mountain that had never been climbed before ahead of them (no team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit), the Jazz could have packed it in. They didn’t. Mitchell wouldn’t let them.
"It's not always going to be perfect, but to have teammates who have your back through the ups and downs means the world," Mitchell said.
To be fair, there were plenty of other heroes for the Jazz on Monday as they kept their season alive. Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert provided terrific interior defense — the Rockets were just 11-of-33 on two-point shots. Jae Crowder started the game hitting his first five shots and finished with 23 points. And Ricky Rubio had 18 points and 11 assists in the win.
It was a performance that showed pride, but it also showed belief. Sure, no team has ever come back down 3-0, but that doesn’t mean it won’t or can't ever be done.
“We believe we can do it. If not, why would we jump on a plane?” Rubio asked.