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Rockets Remain Undefeated After Comeback v. Utah Jazz, 104-93

After an awful first half, the Rockets stormed back late to topple a young, rebuilding Utah Jazz squad.

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Turnovers and lethargy abound, the Rockets managed to stay within the ranks of the undefeated yet again as they fought back in the second half against an inexperienced and under-talented Utah team.

Usually, playing in the second game of a back-to-back provides some modicum of an excuse for sub-par performances, especially with McHale's tight rotations.  But against a Jazz team that was also coming off of a game just yesterday, we have only our poor execution and effort to blame for tonight's failings.

Even without Beverley and Casspi, the Rocket's stuck to a tight 7 man rotation - only sparingly giving Terrence Jones minutes, despite the clear lack of energy from the starting unit.

After the most atrocious half of basketball Houston played so far this season, Chandler Parson's 24 points, 12 rebounds, and 6 assists carried the Rockets to a win that could only be described as a frustrating.  The Rocket's faithful are still waiting for the club to string together 4 quarters of solid basketball, but they have been able to put together enough good quarters to get it done.

Enes Kanter seemed as the bellwether for this contest for the Jazz, as he started out strong in the first half with 14 points and 7 rebounds on 66% shooting but fizzled in the second half with only 2 points and 1 rebound on 25% shooting.  Dwight and company really upped their defensive effort overall in the second.  After allowing Utah to shoot 49% from the floor in the first half, the Rockets held them to 32% after the break.

This contest truly was a game of two halves.

First Half

Houston fell way behind early with some sloppy play out of the gate.  The Rockets delivered a first quarter that was the polar opposite of their start yesterday evening.  Instead of the 38 points they put up on Dallas, they managed only a measly 16 against a much younger Utah squad.

The entire first half was a nightmare for the Rockets as they not only continued to turn the ball over as if they got bonuses in all of their contracts for it, but were, shockingly, dominated by the Jazz on the boards early on.  Asik got in foul trouble early and Dwight was not able to contain Kanter, who was torching the Rockets on both sides of the floor.  He started the first quarter with 10 points and 6 rebounds, 4 of which were offensive.

Jeremy Lin looked particularly bad in the early portions of the game.  He couldn't seem to keep a good handle on the ball, was not shooting or finishing well, and generally seemed out of his element.

More disconcerting was the embarassing defensive effort. They were not closing out on mid-range jumpers and were not moving their feet to cut driving Jazz players off in the lane, allowing for easy jumpers and layups.

No one in red seemed to be able to string plays together to stay in the game early on.  Chandler Parsons appeared to be the only one who had some gas left in the tank, as he scored 20 first half points in a half that saw no other Rocket net more than 7.

Second Half

The third quarter was exactly what the Rockets needed as they started to storm back, outscoring Utah 33-17 in the period to take the lead going into the 4th.  This was the one quarter the Rockets gave their full effort on both sides of the floor, and man was it good.  This quarter featured:

-          19-4 Rockets run to start the period

-          The Rockets shooting 58.8%  from the floor (75% from 3 point range) while the Jazz shot a dismal 29.4%

-          14-6 advantage in points in the paint

-          9-0 advantage in fast break points

-          Outrebounded the Jazz 14-7

-          Harden and Howard combined for 19 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks and a beautiful alley- oop over Rudy Gobert

In short, whatever was in the water (or McHale's scolding halftime tirade) was working.

Once the rest of the offense finally started clicking, Parsons shifted gears away form scoring and more towards rebounding and facilitating as he began to rack up the rebounds and assists to round out his stat line.

Defensively was where the change was the most stark.  Houston was getting after the ball much more aggressively, forcing ill-advised shots, and dominating the boards in the second half (28-12 advantage!).

It was this defensive effort that made the difference as the Jazz had no consistent scoring threat to look to in the face of adversity late in games.  They folded late, taking too many quick shots that just were not sinking the same way they were in the first half.

Francisco Garcia deserves a second half mention as well, as he managed just 2 points in the first half, but closed with 12 as he rained 3 pointers in the 3rd and 4th periods.  He also played great help defense on screens and drives, which gave our defenders time to get back in position and forced poor shot selection from Utah.

Final Thoughts

Although I was disappointed by the tight rotations, turnovers, and general poor defensive effort by the team, it was quarters like the 3rd give me an immense amount of confidence in this team's ability to absolutely shut a team down and go on a tear.

'Ugly' appears to be the operative word that describes most of the quarters the Rockets have played in thus far, despite the unblemished W-L record.  Hopefully, once 2014 comes around, we will have shaken off these early season cobwebs and started playing the way that we know this team can play.

I dont think there are many of our true Western Conference playoff rivals that we could go down 19 against and come back the way we did tonight, but these kinds of tests are important for gelling teams like this down the stretch of a long season.

Houston needs more games that feel less like a relief that we won, especially against the likes of Charlotte, Dallas, and Utah.

We certainly will be expecting more from this Rockets team as they face their first real test against the Clippers on Monday.

See more coverage of this game over at SLC Dunk