HOUSTON — Before tip-off Wednesday night, Houston Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni tried to downplay the importance of winning Game 5. To him, if the Rockets didn’t get that one, they could just go win Game 6. And if they didn’t get that one, there was always Game 7.
He wasn’t fooling his players, though.
They had heard how loud Vivint Arena got in the two games in Salt Lake City — and that was with the Rockets having dominated the series. They didn’t want to have to face that crowd again because they knew what it meant: they’d probably be right back in Houston for a Game 7.
“We didn’t want to go back to Utah, seriously,” Chris Paul said. “I mean, it got so loud in there that last game, I missed that free throw. We wanted to try and take care of business tonight.”
So when Utah got up by seven in the second quarter, the Rockets knew they had to dig deep.
James Harden, after missing his first seven shots, got a floater and a 3-pointer to go down, as Houston was off and running for 24-5 run. A run that turned the game and proved a little too much for the Jazz to overcome.
“We knew how important tonight was,” Harden said. “We didn’t want to go back to Utah — and they did. They played like it. … It was a pretty tough series. We found ways to win and guys made big plays.”
There was a genuine belief in the Jazz locker room that they could do something no team had ever done before: come back from three games down and win a series.
The Jazz felt their defense, after taking two games to fully adjust to a new scheme, was good enough to hold Houston in check for the rest of the series. And they felt they had the heart to keep fighting.
“Most teams when you go down the way we went down 2-0, most teams call it quits,” Donovan Mitchell said. “We have guys from top to bottom coming in and making plays. Fighting and competing, yelling and screaming, doing whatever we can to win.”
And if they could get a win in Game 5, they’d have a few more people yelling and screaming come the next game, too.
“We gotta give credit to the fans because they help us,” Ricky Rubio said. “We knew that if we were to win tonight, there was going to be a Game 7. There was no way we’d lose at home.”
But the Rockets had that feeling, too. And a 6-0 run to end Game 5 was enough to end the series in Houston.