HOUSTON — Everything was moving around him.
His teammates walked back and forth in front of him, a mixture of sadness and disappointment on their faces. Trainers prepared for the last flight of the season by hurriedly packing bags. Broadcast crews dragged chords and hoisted cameras eagerly awaiting the first player who would be willing to talk.
Through it all, Ricky Rubio was motionless. He sat in front of his locker with his head resting on his hands, staring down at the floor.
It was over.
The Utah Jazz season came to an end on Wednesday at Toyota Center with a 100-93 loss to the Houston Rockets in Game 5, losing the best-of-seven series 4-1.
“We wasted the first two games,” Rubio said, finally breaking his gaze away from the floor. “We didn’t compete the first two games and it’s more painful. I think we showed the team we were capable of the last three games, but it’s unacceptable the first two.”
By the end, the Jazz and Rockets didn’t seem as far apart as the 4-1 split would indicate. Utah’s defense that many called gimmicky in the first two contests worked at the tail end of the series.
Rudy Gobert showed that, no, he can’t be simply schemed out of a game or series — as long as he has a coach willing to scheme something right back. Donovan Mitchell proved he could go toe-to-toe with the best in the world, but still had some growing still to do. And the Jazz found out harshly that good defense doesn’t always translate to playoff wins.
In Game 5, the Jazz held the Rockets to an offensive rating of 100 (points per 100 possessions), more than 15 points lower than their regular season average. The defensive philosophy that was ridiculed by some and laughed at by others in the first two games of the series worked.
Utah’s offense just never found its shot — on Wednesday or really any time during the series.
Mitchell soared high for a rebound, starting a fast break that would end with the ball in Rubio’s hands in the corner. Utah was down two points with 1:09 remaining and Rubio had a wide-open 3 that would give the Jazz the lead.
The shot didn’t even draw iron.
That sequence summed up the whole series — at least the last three games. Utah’s defense forced enough stops. The Jazz just couldn’t hit enough shots.
Utah shot 37.2 percent from the field and was 23.7 percent from 3-point range on Wednesday, continuing a series-long trend.
“I’m pretty sure that Joe (Ingles) and Ricky and all those guys, I‘m pretty sure they wish they had those shots back,” Derrick Favors said. “But you can’t look backward, you gotta move forward. Hopefully, we can learn from this and get ready for next year.”
If more of those looks would have gone down, the series narrative would have been different. It would have been about the Jazz’s unique defensive effort working and it would be about Utah storming back from two blowout losses. But the point of the game is to put the ball in the basket. Utah didn’t do that enough.
“The shots aren’t going to fall every night,” Gobert said. “This series, we had a — A LOT — lot of open shots that didn’t fall that could have turned the other way and everyone would be praising what we did defensively.”
Instead, the talk is about what went wrong in Game 5. About how Mitchell, who was coming off such a magnificent Game 4, was just 4-of-22 from the field. About how the Jazz committed costly turnovers and missed key rebounds down the stretch. And, of course, about how and why they were missing so many shots.
And no one could seem to find an answer for that.
“Just basketball,” Favors said. “You make shots, you miss shots.”
Royce O’Neale was one of the few Jazz players who made some. In fact, he nearly saved the Jazz’s season. He already had the tall task of chasing around James Harden all night, but he also was Utah’s most consistent offensive weapon.
O’Neale had 18 points on 8-for-13 shooting. He made strong drives to the hoop and he went 2-of-4 from the 3-point line. He was the only Jazz player to shoot over 50 percent.
Mitchell had just 12 points and his 3-point miss in the final minute sealed Utah’s fate while Gobert had just 9 points on 3-of-8 shooting.
Rubio, meanwhile, played an inspired game. He finished with 17 and 11 assists, making plays late that put Utah in position to send the series back to Utah. But it's the three that didn’t go down that will linger. And not just that one — plenty of others before it, too
“I had an open 3 to get up one … and I missed it,” Rubio said. “It’s not about that, it’s about the whole game.”
And the whole series.