Facing another must-win game to secure a playoff spot in the West, Houston needed to come out of the gate with an aggressive mentality and they did. Houston raced out to a 26 points lead before surviving a gritty comeback by the Jazz, to move to 37-31 after beating Utah 100-93.
The Good: Rockets Victory
The Rockets needed this win, especially with a couple of strong West teams coming up in the schedule. The win gives Houston a 1½ game lead over the 8th seeded Los Angeles Lakers. The first quarter has not been friendly to the Rockets, especially in the last 6 of 8 games where Houston has been outscored. That changed tonight. Houston used a strong first quarter on the defensive end to start separating themselves from the Jazz. The Rockets held the Jazz to their lowest scoring total, 10 points, and showed a commitment to playing defense, hustling for every loose ball and contesting every passing lane, making it tough for the Jazz to start their offense. Offensively the Rockets shot the ball much better tonight, especially the bench but more on them in the player ratings, shooting 45% from the field. Houston had better spacing and made harder cuts into the lane. The win gives the Rockets the series win against the Jazz this season 3-1.
The Bad: The Houston Backcourt
For this game, bad, does not carry the same connotation as you may think. This is the kind of game the Rockets needed to play after a drubbing by the Warriors on Sunday and Houston turned to their strength, their backcourt. The Rockets backcourt of Jeremy Lin and James Harden were two bad men on a mission. They played with one thing on their mind, a Rockets victory. The Houston backcourt combined for 53 points 9 assists and four rebounds. Both men also played better defensively, especially Harden who wasn’t caught ball watching as much as games past. For the Rockets to be successful it has to start with the backcourt. Their aggressiveness driving to the basket opens up things for the Houston shooters, which in turn will make it easier for them to drive down the lane.
The Ugly: Jazz Comeback
As much praise as they may receive for the defensive effort tonight they should get some jeers for letting the Jazz get within five points. The defensive intensity the Rockets displayed in the first half went out the window in the 4th quarter. With the playoffs fast approaching the Rockets need to be more unfailing when playing with the lead and continue playing there fast pace game. That includes making the extra pass and keeping the ball moving. A better team might come back to get the victory.
Jeremy Lin: (8) 24 points and 6 assists
Lin stepped up his game. From the start of the game he was aggressive. Lin drove to the hoop and shot the ball without hesitation. When his team needed him the most Lin stepped up, driving down the lane for two contested layups to get Houston out of its offensive funk with three minutes left in the 4th quarter. Seven of his nine baskets were layups, which is a sign of his aggressiveness. Defensively he made it tough for Mo Williams to get going, who only score 4 points.
James Harden: (7) 29 points and 3 assists
Harden did most of his work in the first half where he scored 21 points then mostly disappear in the second half except for the last minute of the game. With Houston nursing a five-point lead Harden poked the ball out of Al Jefferson hands and sealed the victory for Houston. Harden finished with 29 points, doing most of his damage from the free throw line going 17/18 from the line. For a player who receives a lot of flack for his defense he showed improvement in that department tonight.
Chandler Parsons: (6) 10 points 8 rebounds
Parsons had a bit of a bounce back game. While he didn’t score a lot of points he was active and chased Gordon Hayward around all night. While Hayward did score 27 points, most of his points came against the slower Delfino. Parsons was two rebounds shy of a double double.
Donatas Motiejunas: (4.5) 5 points and 5 rebounds
Motiejunas missed a lot of threes from the corner, a shot that is important to the Rockets offense. If D-Mo wants to continue getting playing time he’s going to have to start hitting that shot. Whether it’s a lack of confidence or nerves, he needs to start hitting shots. With that said, this was also a bounce back game for him. Yes, he missed a lot of shots but defensively he was more active on the boards and made it difficult for Paul Millsap to score.
Omer Asik: (6.5) 9 points and 12 rebounds
Asik did what Asik does best. Gobble up rebounds and find new creative ways to shoot layups, even if it looks silly.
Notable Bench Players:
Carlos Delfino, Patrick Beverley, Greg Smith and Thomas Robinson: (7)
The bench mob combined for 23 points 5 rebounds and 6 steals. The Rockets bench came into the game with a point to prove. They entered the game and played their roles to perfection playing with a steady hand and increasing the Rockets lead. Delfino and Beverley led the way combining for 26 points. Special recognition for Patrick Beverley who hustled for every loose ball. The man is a pesky defender and pestered the Jazz guards into committing turnover, which led to either fast breaks points or additional possessions. If Gary Payton is “The Glove” then Beverly shall henceforth be known as “The Mitten”, if at least just for tonight.
Kevin McHale: (6.5)
Coach McHale grade is based not just on this game but on the practices he led. The Rockets executed his game plan and got the victory. Since the game was a blowout McHale rarely had to make and in game decisions. In the 4th quarter with four minutes left he substituted Delfino for D-Mo after Motiejunas missed two corner three’s. By Delfino playing the stretch four position it opened up the driving lanes for Harden and Lin.
The Rockets get back to action Friday night when they welcome the Cleveland Cavaliers to Toyota Center. Until then follow me on Twitter @jhacevedo for more Rockets discussions.
What do you make of the Rockets victory? How does “The Mitten” work for Beverley?