Two days after ending the San Antonio Spurs’ 11-game winning steak, the Utah Jazz handled the red-hot Houston Rockets and came away with a critical 103-91 road win.
With the shortened season inching to an end, the Jazz and Rockets continue to battle for their playoff lives. In what was arguably the most important game of the season for both teams, Utah took advantage. With the win, the Jazz jump to the ninth spot in the Western Conference and come within one and a half games of the final playoff spot.
Gordon Hayward and Paul Millsap combined to score 50 of the Jazz’s 103 points. Playing a near-flawless game, Hayward shot an incredible 64% and finished with a game-high 29 points, six assists, and two steals. As a team, the Jazz led a balanced attack with five players scoring in double figures.
Despite the convincing victory, Utah got off to a poor defensive start. The Rockets scored five of their first eight field goals in the paint and took command of the game in the early minutes. Thanks to Hayward’s 12 first-quarter points and DeMarre Carroll’s defensive energy, Utah responded with a 12-2 run near the end of the quarter to capture the lead.
“[My teammates] need somebody, an energy guy, a lockdown defender, and that’s what I’m trying to bring to the team,” said a focused Carroll.
As the Rockets went cold, the Jazz opened the second quarter on an 8-0 scoring run. Playing at the small forward position, Millsap exploited his smaller defender and scored 12 second-quarter points on 6-of-7 shooting. The Jazz shot a sizzling 58% as a team in the first half and marched into the break with a ten-point edge.
Holding the Rockets to just 21% shooting, Utah blew the lead open in the third period. Then, after taking a comfortable 18-point lead, the Jazz allowed the Rockets to come storming back as guard Kyle Lowry came to life.
Lowry scored four points in the final minute of the third period and opened the fourth quarter by scoring Houston’s first five points. His fourth-quarter attack helped trim the Jazz lead down to four points midway through the final period. Though Lowry seemed determined to repeat his 32-point, 9-assist performance during Utah’s last visit to Houston, the Jazz held on to win.
“These are all playoff games, you know. We must win,” commented Al Jefferson.
With their next two games on the road, the Jazz will look to build on the momentum of the last two thrilling victories.