The Houston Rockets fell back out of the top eight in the Western Conference, as a Herculean 42-point effort from James Harden was not enough to overcome an overall poor shooting night from the rest of the squad, and the Rockets dropped a tough one to the Jazz 117-114 in a heartbreaking overtime loss.
The Rockets were discombobulated from the start, with Dwight Howard starting the first quarter looking completely asleep on two consecutive missed alley-oop attempts from Josh Smith (who drew the start) and this embarrassing one from Harden.
The Rockets continued two season-long themes at the start, as the league's 27th ranked team in turnovers gave the ball up 5 times in the quarter and also allowed the Jazz to shoot 64.7 percent out of the gate, as the Rockets fell behind 34-23 after one frame to a team averaging just 98 points per game on the season.
The Rockets tightened things up defensively in the second, but continued to make the type of offensive mistakes we simply should not being seeing at this point in the season. A missed screen off an inbounds attempt to Howard as the shot clock ran down led to a 24-second violation, the team made several more bad passes for turnovers, and the offense continued to look completely out of synch as the team shot just 37.8 percent for the half.
Harden and Howard shot a combined 10-17 in the first half, but received no help elsewhere, as the rest of team heaved up a putrid 4-20 from the field. Only the defense's ability to force 16 Utah turnovers in the half kept the Rockets within striking distance.
The team did step up the defensive pressure even further in the 3rd period, led by gorgeous back-to-back blocks by Howard:
Dwight Howard rejects Rudy Gobert on back-to-back shots. #Rockets pic.twitter.com/f4W8A8Vjgv— ClutchFans (@clutchfans) February 24, 2016
And Harden finally got a little help putting the ball in the bucket, with Patrick Beverley, Josh Smith and Trevor Ariza all knocking down triples to put the Rockets up 83-79 after the frame.
In another season-long theme, the second team was unable to provide much assistance when the starters went to the bench to start the 4th, allowing the Jazz to reel off a 10-1 run to retake the lead.
Despite some Jason Terry heroics in draining a three with 10 seconds left to send the game into overtime tied at 106, Rodney Hood stuck one in Dwight's face with time running down in OT:
And after Harden and Derrick Favors traded buckets, JET missed the potential game-tying shot this time, and the Rockets fell back to under .500 at 28-29.
Harden led the Rockets with 42 points and shot 16-30 from the field, while Howard had 13 points, 16 rebounds and 3 blocks, and Ariza and Beverley pitched in 18 and 14 points respectively.
It was a barren wasteland after that, however, as the rest of the team shot just 9-31 combined, and the bench, in particular, was mostly awful. Terry led the reserves with 8 points, and they were outscored by the Jazz bench 33-19. Ty Lawson had just 4 points, Terrence Jones had 3, while Clint Capela and Corey Brewer had only 2 apiece.
The Jazz were led by Gordon Hayward with 28 points, and they also got 19 from Favors, 18 from Rodney Hood, and 17 from Shelvin Mack.
The Jazz move a half game ahead of the Rockets for the final spot in the West playoff standings, and the Rockets maintain the same model of inconsistency we've seen from them all season in following up a nice win against the Suns with this disheartening loss to the Jazz.
The Rockets play again Thursday night at the Portland Trail Blazers in what looks like a must-win game, lest they fall further behind the playoff pack. The season is officially on the brink.