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Recap: Houston Rockets 124, Utah Jazz 116

So the Jazz were in town and Houston were looking to avenge the drubbing they received at the end of their long road trip a couple of weeks back. Though there have been issues on the road, four straight wins at home and an opponent on the second night of a back-to-back meant that there were plenty of reasons to be optimistic for tonight’s game. Parsons and Delfino return to uniforms, drastically altering the team’s landscape at the wing for the better.

Rockets started out the quarter looking sloppy. Several poor turnovers lead to easy Jazz transition baskets. When they weren’t making hay on the break, the ball was in Al Jefferson’s hands, and despite Asik doing a great job of pushing him further away from the basket than usual he was able to make several jumpers. Not sure there was much more that he could have done about them.

The Rockets starters seem to have been getting a lot of offence from Asik and Patterson recently, which is great. Unfortunately, in this game they got basically nothing from the backcourt to start things off. Harden managed to dribble the ball off his foot for one of the ugliest looking turnovers you’ll see this year, Lin settled for a few outside shots that neither went in nor did any good to his confidence, and Parsons looked like he was still shaking off the effects of his shoulder issue.

It was the introduction of Delfino that woke the Rockets up. Great to see him back after being out for so long, and he looked great pretty much immediately. From the start he showed great chemistry with Patterson – there was a very sweet dish for a Patterson jumper, and then a nice looking give-and-go for a Delfino dunk. Watching his first quarter play, you got the impression that Carlos had been itching to get back out on the court for a while and it translated nicely into the shot in the arm Houston were looking for here.

Throughout the second quarter we were treated to the battle of the Turks, as Asik and Kanter had multiple possessions against each other in the post. Asik probably got the better of the duel overall. He was able to back down his younger compatriot right under the hoop for an easy bucket, but Kanter didn’t get any such chances – on the next possession he was pushed miles from the hoop and had to pass out. But Enes did make himself a nuisance on the offensive glass. Omer (quite understandably) can struggle to manage the boards by himself when opponents gang rebound, and a tandem of Jeremy Evans – getting some playing time in the absence of Derrick Favors, who was out with a strained foot – got the Jazz quite a few extra possessions for a short stretch in the second quarter.

The rotations were tweaked with Delfino back on the court. After getting in early in recent games, here Morris did not make it onto the court until the second quarter. This was in part because Patterson was playing well, but Morris did not respond with a particularly good game. Something to watch going forward is whether Patterson’s strong play and the return of Delfino does anything to limit Morris after how well he’s played so far this year.

As the quarter wore on, the Rockets began to take control. Parsons began to come into the game, grabbing a steal for some a transition run out and making some shots from the outside. Harden was able to slice down the lane several times for easy points. The Rockets were now the ones forcing turnovers and converting them, to the tune of a 9 point lead at halftime.

It didn’t take long for that lead to evaporate in the third, as the Jazz’s three point shooters got their eye in. They shot 5-7 from beyond the arc and brought them back into the game. Asik was forced to take a trip to the locker room after getting elbowed in the face by Hayward while challenging a drive to the rim (he did manage to draw the offensive foul). The defence really suffered when he left the court – from then on in the Jazz shot 7-8 to close out the quarter. They got good shots on a combination of Jefferson being able to manhandle Smith in the post and a lack of interior presence to dissuade the drives that that perimeter defence were giving up to stop the hot three point shooting.

We did see some encouraging signs from Jeremy Lin in the 3rd. He was able to beat his man off the dribble several times and get to the rim, showing that perhaps his first step is inching back towards Linsanity levels. He was still unable to convert on some of the resulting layups, but Greg Smith did a great job of tipping in some of the misses to ensure that despite being unable to get a stop they were only one point down at the end of the quarter.

So, into the 4th quarter and the Rockets were able to get some joy. Greg Smith continued to have a nice game on the offensive end, working hard in some scrappy possessions, and Delfino and Douglas were able to connect from long range to stretch the lead to 10. They were unable to enjoy it for long – Al Jefferson checked back into the game and this coincided with a 9-0 Utah run in under two minutes. Nice drives from Alec Burks were met with minimal resistance at the rim and Jefferson continued to score easily against Smith down low.

It was at this point that Asik returned to the court after a lengthy absence to fix up his face (seems like that happens every other game – maybe he should consider a facemask). The impact was noticeable – there was one possession in particular that stood out as the Rockets were able to force a shot clock violation on the back of consecutive blocks from Asik and Patterson. On the back of some improved defence and some great offensive plays, the Rockets were able to pull away and eventually finished comfortable 8 point victors on the back of a 39 point 4th quarter.

The Rockets had two key factors to their success in the final 5 minutes – Patterson’s ability to stretch the floor and Lin’s continued success at driving to the basket. With 4 minutes to go, Patterson was able to get free from Millsap in the left corner and made a three pointer. That stuck in the Jazz’s mind and prompted a desperate scramble by Al Jefferson to get out to contest Patterson’s next attempt from the same spot. The shot was short, but Jefferson was horribly out of position due to his wild contest and Patterson was able to grab his own miss. Asik was covered by Foye under the basket and was able to convert, putting the Rockets up 7 with 1:20 to play. The possession illustrated just how dangerous a weapon Patterson’s three point shooting is – it can really help warp defensive schemes by pulling big men out to areas where they are uncomfortable and creating mismatches.

Jeremy Lin had Mo Williams in front of him down the stretch, and as he had done all game he was able to get past him at will to get shots at the rim. Williams did seem to be able to do something similar to Lin at the other end, but he wasn’t getting quite the same quality of shot and overall the Rockets came out ahead in that matchup. Houston were able to build a slender lead on the back-to-back drives from Lin that they would not relinquish (NB: inadvertent Jeremy Lin pun!) for the rest of the night.

Random Thoughts:

  • In the first half, Houston ran a couple of plays that ended up with shots for Lin in the corner. As Ming Wang pointed out, this is an area where Lin does actually shoot pretty well, and he obliged by going 2-3 from that area tonight by my count (one of them he had his foot on the line). Hopefully this is a trend the Front Office have spotted and relayed to the coaching staff – it will be interesting to see if they can continue to generate looks for him from there as the season continues.
  • For all that Asik having to leave the game hurt the Rockets, the Jazz were equally inconvenienced when Randy Foye turned an ankle in the third quarter. He had been playing exceptionally up to that point, shooting 8-11 (4-6 from 3 point range) for 20 points on the game, and his temporary sidelining killed some of the Jazz’s momentum.
  • Patterson often gets some stick for not being a shot blocker. Well tonight on the surface he would appear to have answered his critics with 3 blocks. However, the main value of a shot blocker is the associated fear that leads to changed shots when opposing players try to shoot over them, and Patterson definitely doesn’t have that yet. You could see when Asik left the game just how much easier it was for the Jazz to get their shots off in the lane. The Patterson/Smith did not seem to work all that well at the defensive end because of this. Patterson’s one-on-one defence continues to be solid though – he did an excellent job on Millsap throughout the game.
  • Having Delfino and Parsons back in the lineup makes the backcourt rotations so much more solid. Tonight the trio of them plus Harden split the time at the wing spots and after sputtering in the first quarter they performed admirably. It remains to be seen whether Delfino can be quite this effective in subsequent games (13 points on 7 shots in 17 minutes of action), but nevertheless that extra wing depth is going to be a nice luxury going forward.
  • DeMarre Carroll is a player the Rockets had briefly on the roster back in the 2010-11 season. I’ve previously voiced mild concerns about the quality of players we end up letting go due to Morey’s asset accumulation strategy, and he’s someone else who fits the bill. He seems to have deposed Gordon Hayward as the Jazz’s starting Small Forward and was pesky tonight, flying about on defence and playing with great energy. To be fair though, he did not show anything of this dynamism while in Houston, playing only 11 minutes with 2 assists and 0-3 shooting to show for it. All credit to him for improving his game and breaking into the rotation elsewhere.

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