I do believe that it should be mentioned again. The Houston Rockets went into Salt Lake City in a game with major playoff race implications, and for seven seconds, managed to lead by 50 points. Unfortunately, Alec Burks made a layup and Kevin Murphy made a 3-pointer, so Houston had to settle for winning by 45 points and handing the Jazz its worst defeat in Utah ever. So it goes.This was an amazing, ludicrous, and utterly stupefying game. Yes, the Jazz were injured and Houston has had the good luck of remaining healthy. Gordon Hayward and Mo Williams sat out this game and their presence was sorely missed by Utah. But not more than two weeks ago, the Rockets went to Target Center, battled a Minnesota team that has been all but knocked out of the playoff race purely due to injuries, and were humiliated by Chris Johnson and former Jazz Andrei Kirilenko. To turn around and blow out three teams that had all performed very well before they met Houston in New Orleans, Brooklyn and Utah really shows something about the resiliency of this young team.From the very beginning, there were plenty of reasons to feel confident about the outcome of this game. Without Hayward and Mo Williams, the Jazz’s plan relied heavily on production from Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson in the low block. But Asik and Patterson both worked to neutralize their opponents, and Jeremy Lin repeatedly left an old and ineffective Jamaal Tinsley to double team and harass the two bigs whenever they achieved a modicum of success. Even without factoring Al Jefferson’s well-known black hole tendencies, the Jazz without the presence of Hayward and Williams simply did not have the spacing to counter the relentless hounding of the Jazz players whenever they tried anything in the paint. Utah did make a slight run late in the first quarter when Greg Smith came in for Asik (it should be noted that Smith was the only Rockets player who had an ineffective game tonight, as his athletic offensive game was countered by the athletic defensive game of Derrick Favors and he suffered from his usual defensive lapses), but then the Houston offense went to work.From there, pretty much everything went right for Houston, and everything went wrong for the Jazz. Houston went into the lane at will as Al Jefferson all but lifted them up and escorted Parsons, Harden, and Lin to the rim, Patterson’s jumper returned, Delfino hit his first 4 3-pointers, and Utah’s bigs remained ineffective. Jazz coach Ty Corbin really made no effort to adjust to this problem and thus the lead swelled from 18 at the half to 34 at the end of the 3rd to that ridiculous 50 point mark with 27 seconds left in the game, an achievement which after a long series of boos starting in the second quarter, the remaining Utah fans seemed to be cheering for in a peculiar variation of Stockholm syndrome.
- It’s utterly obvious that James Harden is the best player on the Rockets, but in a way one could argue that Omer Asik has been the most important player for Houston this season. Asik has surpassed every expectation I had of him when the Rockets inked that $25 million deal and as stated earlier, and tonight completely shut down Al Jefferson tonight while grabbing 19 rebounds in the process. Houston’s big men outside of Asik all suffer from various problems in their defense whether it is size or a lack of good instincts or fundamentals, making the starting center’s skillset all the more valuable.
- An absolutely amazing dunk from James Harden, courtesy of Clutchfans It should be noted among the minor negatives of this game that Harden could not hit a jumper tonight, though with the lack of defense from the Utah bigs there was no need to as he repeatedly went into the paint and instead made several difficult shots at the rim. 25 points on 15 shots, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and no turnovers.
- Speaking of turnovers, Houston only had 5 turnovers in this game and absolutely none in the second half. Much of that can be attributed simply because the amount of bounce passes thrown at Mr. Asik’s feet decreased by quite a bit today. While Houston’s fast pace makes a high turnover rate an inevitability and other excellent teams such as the Thunder also turn it off, Houston’s half-court offensive weaknesses mean that they truly cannot afford to waste turnovers on poor passing or traveling calls.
What a game. That’s really all that can be said. With the Lakers starting to finally awake, it’s all the better to win crucial games like this against a tough team on the road. Now the Rockets will take on an even better opponent at their home in the Mile High City on Wednesday.