Rockets 101, Jazz 120 - Rockets 'Steiffeled' in Utah

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On Tuesday, the Rockets traveled to Salt Lake City to take on a team that has historically been a rival – the Utah Jazz. From Karl Malone and John Stockton to Deron Williams and Paul Millsap, the Rockets have had their dealings with the Jazz. This year looks to be no different as both teams have similar talent levels and figure to be fighting for Playoff seeding before the 2016-2017 campaign is over. The Rockets have already beat the Jazz this season, winning a matchup in Houston 111-102, but Utah got swift revenge tonight.

The Rockets picked up where they left off on Sunday (where they handily beat the Portland Trailblazers) and got off to a hot start. They went on a 16-9 run in the first four minutes of the game, getting scoring contributions from all five starters. The Jazz called timeout and things went downhill fast for Houston.

Rodney Hood was scorching hot in the opening period, scoring 13 points on 83% shooting and nailing all three attempts behind the arc. Hood’s hot shooting set the tone for Utah to drain almost every shot they took – a bold strategy, to be sure. The Jazz made the first six threes they attempted and shot 75% from the field in the opening quarter, cruising to a 38-29 lead at the end of the quarter.

Houston’s struggled to get any good offense going, and missed shots when opportunities were presented. In the first half, the Rockets only made four of their 17 attempts from downtown (23.5%) and the Jazz pushed the lead up to 15 midway through the second quarter. Frustration started to mount, evidenced by Patrick Beverley earning a technical foul for aggressively playing after the whistle.

Despite the Rockets arctic first half, they caught a slight rhythm before the end of the second period and played better defense (any defense would have been better defense). After fouling Gordon Hayward on a three-point attempt, the Rockets went into halftime down 62-50. Houston’s only standout offensively was Ryan Anderson who scored 10 points on 67% shooting. Utah, on the other hand, boasted great first half stat lines from Hayward (12 points, five rebounds, four assists), Rudy Gobert (12 points, 10 rebounds) and Hood (15 points).

The Rockets could not execute any halftime adjustments in the second half as the Jazz went on a 14-7 run to push the lead up to 17. The Jazz thwarted the Rockets game plan anytime it seemed like they were going to make a run and get themselves back into this game – mostly by getting to the foul line. In fact, the Jazz shot 18 free throws in the third quarter alone (making 15 of them). Despite a personal 7-0 run from Eric Gordon at the end of the quarter, the Rockets found themselves down 85-73 by the end of the period.

The Rockets were down, but not out, at the start of the fourth quarter and actually managed to cut the lead to single-digits. Then everything fell apart and the Rockets were not only down and out, but buried six feet underground. Utah continued their extremely hot shooting from downtown as Joe Johnson sank back-to-back, and Joe Ingles nailed a dagger into the coffin of this game. The Jazz were up 19 with six minutes left, THEN Gordon Hayward went off on a scoring binge. He finished the game with 31 points on 50% shooting, seven rebounds and five assists.

Rudy Gobert was huge in completely shutting the Rockets down in the second half. His defense was absolutely phenomenal (reminiscent of Dwight Howard back in the Orlando days) as he shut down the paint, altered every shot that came his way, indulged on every rebound, and even stepped out onto the perimeter to disrupt Houston’s offense. The ‘Steiffel Tower’ thoroughly eclipsed Clint Capela on Tuesday and finished with 16 points on 71% shooting and 14 rebounds.

This season, Utah averages a modest 8.5 threes per game on 33% shooting. Tonight, the Jazz hit 15 of their 28 attempts (54%) so this game was clearly an aberration. Also, they only forced Houston to turn the ball over seven times – not something that you’d expect in a game in which the Rockets got blown out. However, the Jazz just absolutely out-executed the Rockets. They got (and made) better shots, played smarter, and locked down the paint defensively. This was a good win for Utah and a bad loss for Houston.

The Rockets close this road trip out in brutal fashion this week when they head to Oracle Arena on Thursday to play the Golden State Warriors, followed by a game in Denver against the Nuggets on Friday.

Game Ball

This is a segment of the game recaps that will give the proverbial game ball to a player that proved to be most valuable to the Rockets on a given night. This award won’t necessarily go to the player that puts up the best numbers, but to the player that made the greatest impact on the team – tangible or intangible.

For the second straight game, the game ball goes to Eric Gordon.

If we’re being honest here, nobody wearing the slick black alternate uniforms deserves to get the game ball this time. I was tempted to give the ball to Rudy Gobert, but I wasn’t going to set that precedent for this section of the recaps.

Despite getting off to a rocky start, Gordon got hot in the second half and even scored nine straight for Houston towards the end of the third period. He finished the game with 24 points on 45% shooting from downtown. Let’s just hope he continues to build on this.

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