With about a minute and a half left in the game, Utah's Jeremy Evans found himself in a 2-on-1 fast break opportunity. As he went up for the powerful slam he misguided the ball and it ricocheted backward off of the top of the rim. Houston was up 77-94 and this was perhaps the perfect metaphor for how the game had gone for the Jazz. An embarrassing missed opportunity.
Over four quarters, Houston forced an unbelievable 31 turnovers. Some of that was good defense, (Trevor Ariza had five steals and Dontas Motiejunas added another three of his own) but most of it was poor decision making by a young albeit talented Utah team. All of it added up to a 97-82 Rockets win.
Despite Houston's 9 point lead at the half, the game still felt as though it could go in either direction. Houston, to that point, was 4-14 from behind the arc and shooting about 35 percent from the field.
It wasn't until the third quarter that the Rockets started to look like themselves, dumping in 32 points over the course of that definitive 12 minutes. Not coincidentally, the third is when the NBA's leading MVP candidate, James Harden, found his rhythm, scoring 11 of those 32 on his own and assisting on another 5.
The Rockets carried a 78-57 lead into the fourth quarter and wouldn't let the differential reach less than nine again.
At first glance the takeaway from this win isn't much. The Rockets beat a 13-seeded, 13-win team by a sizable margin behind a quality showing from their best player. That alone, however, would be reductive. It was the little things that propelled Houston forward in the second half.
Josh Smith has emerged as a high-energy guy off of the bench, blocking shots that lead to fast-break dunks for Dwight and whirling and twirling his way through the paint to create space either for finessed layups or powerful dunks. His 10 points don't accurately convey the contribution he made to tonight's win.
D-Mo was another high-point for Houston's inside rotation. He posted an impressive +/- of 29, went 6/8 from the field and scored 14 points to go along with his 10 rebounds. It's the kind of gutty performance we've come to expect from the young Lithuanian this season.
The Rockets looks to stretch their win streak to four as they take on the Nets this Monday in Brooklyn.