The Houston Rockets returned home after a tough 1-5 road trip and looked to get back into the win column vs. the Utah Jazz. Surprisingly, the Jazz entered the game in the playoff picture at 22-21. Most experts expected Utah to be at the bottom of the standings for most of the season, but the Jazz, led by Lauri Markanenen, have surprised many this season.
The Rockets were happy to return home after winning only one of their six games during their most extended road trip. Houston’s league-leading defense struggled at times on the road, but the biggest issue was the Rockets’ three-point shooting, which fell off a cliff to the point that Houston had the worst percentage beyond the arc during the last six games at 27.7 percent.
The Rockets in H-town, however, have been a different team with one of the best home records in the league at 15-6. Coach Udoka did talk about the status of Tari Eason, who has missed the last several games. Udoka said a couple of weeks ago that Eason was more week-to-week and not day-to-day, and that still seems to be the case, as Udoka already stated that Eason would be out vs. the Celtics as well.
Rockets came out early, feeding the ball to Alperen Sengun as the Jazz started the game, playing Sengun one-on-one. The Rockets and Jazz battled back and forth for most of the quarter, as no team had a lead bigger than four points until the end of the quarter when Cam Whitmore, fresh off the bench, nailed a three-pointer as the shot clock buzzer went off. The Rockets took a 31-24 lead going into the second quarter.
After a Tate foul on a three, the Rockets came out moving the ball well as Jabari Smith nailed a couple of three-pointers and then Jeff Green stepped back in the corner and knocked down a shot from beyond the arch.
Led by Aaron Holiday, the Rockets second unit pushed the lead to 17 at one point as the Rockets played the best defense they had played in over a week. Rockets led 53-40 at the five-minute mark as the starters entered back into the game.
The starters came in and got the lead back to 15 after the Jazz, led by Jordan Clarkson, got the lead down to 10. Rockets took a 64-51 lead into the half as Sengun already had a double-double in the first half, and the Rockets held the Jazz to under 42 percent shooting.
In the third quarter, the Jazz slowly cut into the lead as they would cut the lead down to six at one point. Jabari Smith and Kris Dunn got into it as the Jazz got even closer and had to be separated. Both were assessed technical, and the Dunn would nail a three-pointer two plays later.
The Rockets slowly reverted to the road Rockets as they started the quarter 1-9 from three-point range, and the Jazz took full advantage, taking their first lead of the game. The Rockets got the game back to 89-89 at the end of the fourth after an Amen Thompson putback.
The Rockets and Jazz again went back and forth to start the quarter as the teams traded the lead in the first five minutes. One thing that stood out was the number of dunks the Rockets missed. I counted at least six off the top of my head, and it may have been more.
All starters came back in the game except Jalen Green, as Cam Whitmore, the rookie, played significant minutes in place of Green for most of the fourth quarter. The Rockets and Jazz battled to the end, and with 20 seconds left, Sengun was fouled. Though he struggled most of the game from the foul line, he was to come up clutch and knocked down both free throws. The Rockets then locked the Jazz down on the defensive end, and the game went to overtime, where the Rockets hadn't won a game all season.
Like most of the second half, the game was nip-and-tuck for overtime. The Jazz, however, were able to pull ahead by four points with 2:45 left after a Jordan Clarkson basket. Alperen Sengun would get a basket, and Jabari Smith made a pull-up jumper, but the Jazz were still up by three with a minute left in the game. That is when Sengun took over and made an and-one to tie it up.
The Rockets held the Jazz scoreless the last 1:35 and got a free throw from Smith to take a one-point lead. The game's biggest play came from Thompson, who saw Collin Sexton driving to the basket, slide over and come up with the huge block.
Amen Thompson with the play of his young career. Amazing block! pic.twitter.com/eKVB4INfKz— Lachard Binkley (@BinkleyHoops) January 21, 2024
The Rockets would go on to win their first overtime game of the year, 127-126, over a tough Jazz team. Houston takes on the Boston Celtics Sunday night, this time at the Toyota Center.
Check out the full post-game interview over at Rocket Fuel on YouTube.