Wow, what a game. The score doesn't even do it justice, since this wasn't. even. close. after about midway through the 2nd quarter. Simply put, the Rockets shoved the ball down Utah's collective throat, killing them on the fast break and raining threes all night.
It's been said after virtually every quality win for the Rockets after the new year, but this looked like the Rockets team of old (you know, December). Maybe it was being on national television, or maybe it was the opportunity to knock a hated rival down a peg and avenge that travesty in Salt Lake City last night, but the Rockets showed off that "hustle" and "grit" stuff that so many people talked about all year, but which seemed lost over the past few months. The home squad was +11 on turnovers tonight, and would have easily beaten the Jazz on the offensive boards, had Jeffers and Millsap not decided to keep trying in the 4th. Second chance points were huge for Houston, and, yeah, I guess that's "hustle."
But beyond all that hustle stuff, the Rockets just had their offense in rare form for the entire night. Great passing, great movement off the ball, and, of course, hot shooting make for great Rockets basketball. And critical to all of that was Chuck Hayes, who once again showed why he's so crucial to the Rockets. More on that later.
Defensively, the Rockets were once again highly active, trying to strip the ball from anyone entering the paint. Most importantly, they succeeded in stopping Deron "Not Chris Paul" Williams, trapping him on the perimeter and forcing him to give up the ball. 7 turnovers and only 7 assists from Utah's best player, and that was mostly Rockets defense. Sure, he was tired, but I'm going to be charitable and assume that Williams doesn't cough up the ball seven times every time he's feeling a little sleepy.
The bench did a fairly decent job of holding down the court. Lowry, Jeffries, Hill, and Budinger deserve honorable mention for the night - they contributed pretty strongly in limited minutes, and they'd probably look much better if they spent more time on the court. Ariza deserves some talk here, too. He did great work on the perimeter, and it was another good night to see how Trevor contributes outside of scoring.
Overall, just an incredible game. It certainly feels great, even if it's largely meaningless (for the Rockets, at least. It certainly hurts the Jazz). One can't help but feel great when you see how well Kevin Martin, Aaron Brooks, and Luis Scola are playing together. This team is going to really be something next year.
Ugh. I still hate writing that.
Chuck Hayes: As Jason Friedman "tweeted" during the game, Chuck was in "Wes Unseld" form. He had a career-high 18 rebounds in less than 30 minutes, and made seemingly every fast break happen for the Rockets. The smallest center in NBA history continues to show why he's so undervalued, and it was nice to hear someone other than Bill Worrell say it. Thanks, Hubie.
Aaron Brooks: He started out perfect from behind the arc, and he broke Rafer's record for most threes in a season. Probably won't break his record for most attempts, though. Only one turnover from the player dubbed "Mighty Mouse" by Hubie Brown (hey, I'll use it), and he facilitated the offense all night.
Kevin Martin: Yes, Rockets fans, Speed Racer is something special. His numbers don't look quite as good as they should, since he went cold down the stretch, but by that time the money was in the bank, so who cares? He is a one-man fast break, and he demolished the Jazz all night. How can any Rockets fan watch a game like this and not get excited for what Martin is capable of? He's basically the perfect shooter, and the way he plays with Brooks is frankly other-worldly, given their similar skills.
Luis Scola: I commented on this in the game thread, but I think we tend to forget how crazy-good Scola's moves can be, since we see them practically every night. The ESPN crew was impressed by what seemed to me to be fairly conventional Scola moves, so let's not forget this - for a guy who can't really elevate, Luis is absolutely incredible around the basket.
Hilton Armstrong: Two minutes played, zero points, assists, or rebounds, though he did fail to catch a pass and racked up an uncredited turnover. Hilton makes Cook look good.