Utah's offense soars, Jazz defense roars in big win over Houston

Utah's offense soars, Jazz defense roars in big win over Houston

HOUSTON — On a night when the Utah Jazz had one of their best offensive outings and gave up a dozen more points than they usually do, it was a defensive play that really helped preserve a nice 115-108 win over the Houston Rockets.

And, no, it wasn’t the sweet block Gordon Hayward had against James Harden with three minutes remaining.

After trailing pretty much all night, the Rockets made a late run — of course they did, this is the NBA, after all — and threatened to pull within one possession of the Jazz with under a minute to go.

Joe Johnson made a bad pass to Joe Ingles, and Houston guard Eric Gordon intercepted the bobbled reception and advanced the ball downcourt to Patrick Beverley.

It seemed like a certain fast-break bucket for the team that’s had the NBA’s best offense since the All-Star break.

Hayward had another thing in mind.

Two minutes after his impressive, soaring block of a Harden layup attempt, Hayward hustled back on defense and held his ground against Beverley. The Houston guard missed the layup and the Jazz pushed the ball the other way, resulting in a nice feed from Hayward to Rudy Gobert for a reverse layup.

That gave the Jazz a six-point lead — all the cushion they needed to up their win streak to four games — with 47 seconds remaining.

Harden missed his eighth 3-point attempt of the night, going 0-for-8, on the next possession, and the Rocket faithful began to stream out of the Toyota Center.

“It’s a big win. It’s against a team that is third in the West and on the road, so it’s a pretty good win,” Gobert said. “It’s a long season and this is only one game, and we have another big game coming up. It’s a great win and we just have to keep getting better and keep getting those wins.”

This victory, which gave Utah a 2-1 series win over Houston, wouldn’t have been possible without huge nights on both ends from Gobert and Hayward.

Hayward, playing like the All-Star he is, finished with 23 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Gobert, playing like an All-Star by game if not by name, also had 23 points while grabbing 10 rebounds.

With George Hill (toe) and Derrick Favors (knee) both resting, the Jazz were also lifted by Rodney Hood (19 points), Joe Johnson (16 points) and Alec Burks (10 points), not to leave out nice contributions from Joe Ingles, Jeff Withey and Raul Neto.

“It’s a great win for us because it was a great test on the road,” Johnson said after playing for the first time in a few games following a groin injury. “Give Houston a lot of credit. They’ve been going good all season. It was great for us to come into a hostile environment like this and play somewhat of a playoff-type game.”

Harden finished with 35 points, aided by a 15-of-16 night at the free-throw line, but he gave the Jazz plenty of credit, too.

Utah jumped ahead 30-22 after the first quarter, went up by 13 points and never crumbled when Houston made a couple of strong pushes in the second half.

The Jazz, who average 100.3 points, outshot the Rockets (53.9 percent to 44.3 percent), outrebounded them 45-31 and won despite going to the free-throw line 16 fewer times (40-24).

It helped Utah improve to 41-24, which puts them just three games behind Houston (44-21) for the third spot.

The Rockets only hit eight of 32 3-point shots.

“Yeah, they’re a really good defensive team,” Harden said after shooting 10-for-22 overall, including the oh-fer night behind the arc. “We still had our looks, we still had opportunities, we just couldn’t knock them down. … So just give them credit. They played hard and they made shots.”

Hayward and Johnson, who started at the power forward position for the injured Favors, had especially big 3-pointers in the final minutes.

“We just moved the ball. They were really collapsing and trapping myself and Gordon on our ball screens,” Hood said. “We made the right plays and we were finding each other, and guys hit big shots. Joe Johnson, Joe Ingles and Rudy made big plays. … It was a collective effort.”

Utah has two days off before traveling to Oklahoma City where another collective effort will be needed against the Thunder, one of the teams the Jazz are trying to fend off for home-court advantage in the upcoming Western Conference playoffs.

“It’s a unique team and one of the top teams in the league,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said of the Rockets. “We want to get to that level, but we’re a ways away. We played well tonight, our guys competed and a lot of times you just have to be fortunate against a team like that, that is that good. We were lucky tonight. They missed a few shots and we were able to make a few.”

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Published at Thu, 09 Mar 2017 06:05:00 +0000