Given that no team has ever rallied from a 3-0 deficit in NBA history, it’s almost certainly a case of too little, too late.
But give Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell credit: Two days after his late-game meltdown allowed the Rockets to steal Game 3 despite a historically bad shooting night by James Harden, the budding young star bounced back with a vengeance.
Refusing to go quietly into the offseason, Mitchell exploded for 19 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter as the Jazz extended the series with a 107-91 victory in Monday’s Game 4.
Up until that decisive fourth, the contest was playing out in remarkably similar fashion to Game 3. The Rockets were struggling on offense, shooting just 41 percent from the floor despite sinking 17 3-pointers, and somehow led by three heading in to the final 12 minutes.
Enter Mitchell. In stark contrast to Saturday, when he missed 16 of his last 20 shots — including the potential tying 3-pointer in the final seconds — Mitchell lifted the Jazz on his shoulders and carried them home.
His 3-pointer on the first possession of the fourth tied the game at 79. He followed with two more during a personal 10-0 run that gave the Jazz a commanding 91-80 advantage. The Rockets never seriously threatened after that as Mitchell helped finish them off for good with the type of finish that was sorely lacking in Game 3:
The Jazz now head back to Houston for Game 5, where the Rockets won 31 of 41 games during the regular season. Even if Utah pulls that one out, they’d still have to win Game 6 at home, then again in Houston to execute what would be the greatest comeback in NBA history.
The odds of that are somewhere between slim and none. But you’ve got to start somewhere, and thanks to Mitchell, the Jazz finally have a much-needed beachhead.
For any real championship contender, the first round is merely the warmup for what promises to be a much longer, far more grueling journey.
But the Bucks can be forgiven for taking an extra moment or two to savor their first-round sweep of the Pistons, which they completed with a 127-104 victory in Game 4.
This wasn’t just any series victory. This was Milwaukee’s first series victory since 2001, and its first sweep since 1983 — a triumph over Larry Bird’s Celtics that took place more than a decade before the birth of current franchise savior Giannis Antetokounmpo. (In addition, the Bucks’ plus-95 point differential in the series marked the second largest in a four-game sweep in NBA history. The Pistons, meanwhile, lost their 14th straight playoff game to set a new league mark for futility.)
Per usual, the Greek Freak had his enormous fingerprints all over the game, erupting for 41 points on 23 shots to become the first player in playoff history with 40-plus in less than 32 minutes.
Antetokounmpo’s shot chart illustrates the Thanos-level dominance he brought to bear with a snap:
When he wasn’t throwing down the usual array of rim-rattling dunks, Antetokounmpo — who also earned 20 free throws — was doing stuff like this, for which the Pistons had absolutely no answer:
Giannis also pulled down nine rebounds, dished out three assists and blocked four shots, swooping in at one point to spike Ish Smith’s ill-advised floater into the court with such force that even Pistons fans couldn’t help but be amazed:
Yup, Giannis will do that to you. And now the Celtics are next up to take on the NBA’s long-armed angel of death and a Bucks team that is already reaching heights the franchise hasn’t been to in a generation.
“It means a lot,” Antetokounmpo said. “I’ve been six years in the league, and just to win our first playoff series with this group, it’s unbelievable. We played great basketball.”
And for anyone who celebrates the Bucks’ triumph a little too hard…
Enjoy an extra hour or two of sleep Milwaukee, you earned it!!
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) April 23, 2019