On the second night of a back to back, after a hard fought, and tedious win over Dallas, the Rockets made their way to Salt Lake City to face the Jazz.
In theory this is an easy win against a 0-2 team. In theory the Jazz are deep in a rebuild and feature several good young players and not much else, so should be easy pickings. In theory a deep and talented Rockets team could overcome what is statistically one of the most guaranteed losses in the NBA - in Utah (or Denver - aka at altitude) on second night of back-to-back.
Unfortunately the game is not played in theory, or on paper. The Jazz came out ready to play basketball, the Rockets came out ready to leave Utah, 48 minutes too early. The words dreadful, abysmal, horrid, wretched, lethargic, tepid, torpid, aimless, shiftless, flaccid and limp could all be applied to the Rockets' first half play without fear of exaggeration.
Here are some first half stats:
Rebounds: Utah 27, Houston 12
Assists: Utah 11, Houston 3
Houston scored 38 in the first quarter against Dallas, it managed 40 in the first half in Utah. Essentially only Chandler Parsons was a bright spot, scoring 20 on 7-9 shooting, yet turning the ball over quite a bit.
I could go on, but you get the idea, and I don't much enjoy writing about it. The only hope is that a team recognizable as the Rockets would emerge from the tunnel and make it a game of two halves.
And gentle reader, it began to look that way! The Rocket started the second half on a 15-2 run. The starters were aggressive on offense with James Harden, Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin going to the rim. Dwight Howard and Omer Asik played great interior defense and started taking down every available defensive board. The intensity, did it double, triple? More?
At any rate, it looked like the Houston Rockets had arrived in the Beehive State at last. At 6:24 in the 3rd the Rockets had brought at 16 point Utah lead even, with the third quarter finishing tied 73-73.
Take a moment to reflect on the comeback - the Rockets were down 19 at one point in the first half. They went into the half down 16. The were tied at the end of the third. What would the fourth quarter bring?
Initially the 4th brought defense and rebounding. As lost as Howard and Asik looked on the defensive end in the first half, they, in the words of various announcers, "flipped the script" in the second half. Add in attacking offense from Harden, Parsons, Lin and the sharpshooting Francisco Garcia, the Rockets climbed a slim 5pt lead.
This lead would dip back and fourth throughout the quarter, with the Jazz taking a slight lead, the Rockets reclaiming it. As the team headed into the homestretch of the final minutes of the 4th it appeared to be anyone's game. But it wasn't.
Soccer (football around the world) announcers have a phrase used about as much as "flip the script" and the that is "Form is temporary, class is permanent." In short it means that no matter how a team looks in a short stretch of time "form" that what really matters is the core strength and ability of the team "class". The Jazz were outclassed.
To close the contest we saw a textbook display of class over form. The Jazz were on form, the Rockets were the stronger team, and they asserted that continuously in the second half.
Gordan Hayward, Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors are all promising players. They aren't stars. They may become stars, but Harden and Howard are stars now, and Lin and Parsons can play like stars, as Parsons did tonight. In the end the class, the sheer power, of the Rockets was too much, as a 16 point Jazz lead at the half turned into a 11 point win - a 27 point swing.
A tough road game, a nightmare half, a win that looks a whole lot easier than it was. Rockets are 3-0.
- Don't underestimate the value of Kevin McHale as a leader - the Rockets effort in the second half was completely different from what we saw in the first. Something changed at the break. Lots of people complain about tactics, and maybe we're right and he's wrong, but I doubt any of us could have rallied the Rockets the way we saw.
- I still don't understand the reffing we're seeing this year, but I think it was applied fairly tonight, whatever it is.
- Hope the Rockets sleep in in California, to be rested for the Clippers, but I doubt they will.