The Rockets opened up the game slow and with no energy (stop me if that is the first time you heard that this year).
After about four minutes into the game, the Rockets would get their first bucket, a Trevor Ariza three. The offense would slowly start getting on the same page and, by the end of the first, they started to assert themselves. But the Jazz would tighten up the pressure in the second half and start chipping away at the double-digit lead the Rockets had built. The Jazz executed more down the stretch and come away with the win.
The Rockets let a win they desperately needed slip right through their fingertips.
Below are three takeaways from the Rockets home loss to the Jazz.
James Harden balled as hard as he could
The Rockets superstar brought his A-game to the floor Wednesday night. James Harden flirted with a quadruple-double before ultimately finishing with 26 points, 10 assists, 7 rebounds and 8 steals (a career high).
Early on in the game, Harden, like the Rockets' offense, took a while to get going. What was working from the start of the game was Harden's defense. From the tip he was forcing turnovers and providing intensity on that side of the floor.
Harden was never "on fire" on the offensive end during the game. His jumper was not falling at a high rate, he was able to get into the paint and score like normal, and the foul calls he's used to didn't arrive.
The most impressive thing about the game was the way Harden was locked in on the defensive end for nearly 42 minutes. He rarely lost his man, played the lanes all night long and his one on one defense was stuff to add to that highlight reel no one will ever see.
It is worth mentioning that in the game's waning moments, Harden had some crucial turnovers and missed shots, and was partly responsible for Rodney Hood's game-winning drive-and-dish to Derrick Favors. But, the Rockets are getting MVP Harden, but for whatever reason it isn't turning into wins.
Final three plays might have ended the Rockets playoff hopes
All the buzz post-game was about the shot from Derrick Favors, everyone in Rockets red said that he stepped on the baseline during that final Jazz possession. coach J.B Bickerstaff mentioned it after the game, Jason Terry at his locker was holding up an iPad showing the media that Favors was out. You can judge for yourself.
But the play before is what should leave people wondering if only they had drained the clock.
With 24 seconds on the shot clock, the Rockets missed a chance to take the clock all the way down to the final ticks. They called up a good play, don't get me wrong.
Harden got the inbounds pass in the paint, he then passed it to a wide-open Dwight Howard for a dunk, great execution.
Down two, I can see why it's smart to play the odds, get the shot and the points and play defense on the other side.
What the Rockets normally would do, and what I was looking for, was Harden at the top of the key and a high pick and roll with about 8-10 seconds left. Instead, the game was tied at 87 with 22 seconds and you know the Jazz are going to try and milk every last second off the clock.
Rodney Hood was at half court letting the clock roll. With five seconds left, Gordon Hayward comes up to set a screen Harden switches off of Hood and Ariza picks up Hood (the game is lost at this millisecond). Ariza was not able to slow Hood's run to the rim so Howard is forced to step up and leave his man in Favors. Hood stopped and passes to Favors, who was on the baseline for a wide-open dunk.
Had Ariza been a step quicker, had Harden not switched, maybe they would have re-routed Hood and he would have passed off to a jump shooter (much lower percentage shot). For the last play of the game, it was actually a pretty well drawn-up shot. The Rockets have had trouble getting the ball into Harden on these types of plays, but Bickerstaff drew up a solid ATO.
Howard was at the free-throw line, Harden was being blanketed by Hayward. To get separation, Harden spins around Howard gets to the three point line and takes a pretty decent three that hits the back of the iron. Solid play for a last second shot, but those rarely work.
Playoffs just might be out of the Rockets' reach
The season is nearing an end, and now the Jazz hold the eighth and final seed by a half-game. The Rockets are now two games under .500 with the Raptors (home) on Friday and then a two-game road trip to play the Pacers and the Cavaliers.
In the Rockets final 10 games, they play six straight teams that are either in the playoffs or over .500. They close out the season with four straight layups, but will they make that far before being out for good?