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Rockets strike the crucial note in overtime, defeat Jazz 127-126

The Jazz are singing the blues after Sengun’s 37 point night.

NBA: Utah Jazz at Houston Rockets
Alpie Time.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Rockets really needed that win. They needed it for morale, after a rough road trip in the east. They needed it keep their post-season flame burning, in what looks to be a contentious battle for the 7-10th spot in the Western Conference. (The Rockets stand a whisker below the Lakers for the 10th, and final, play in spot at present.) The Rockets needed it so as not to waste big lead go to waste against a Jazz team that’s been rolling recently after a rough start to their season. They needed it to lift the spirits of Houston sports fan,s just a bit, after a tough, but not unexpected, day on the gridiron.

The game started well for the Rockets who came out looking refreshed, and effective. They lead by 7 after an all-around good first quarter. They kept it up in the second quarter, extending the lead to 13 at the half.

The Rockets seemed to be roaring, and back to the team we saw when they established home dominance early in the season. The Rockets lead by as many as 17 points before the Jazz began a comeback early in the third quarter behind a bunch of makes primarily from Lauri Markkanen, and Simone Fontecchio, who give Utah an unexpectedly worldly European flair. Collin Sextron Sexton also got involved with his herky-jerky-drive-plus arm-bar-push-off-for-free-throws move Rockets fans will most likely associate with James Harden.

The Jazz quickly played down the Rockets lead, and the teams were tied with 3:26 left in the third quarter. After that, it was a back and forth affair until the very end, when Alperen Sengun was fouled on a shot that could have easily have been a game winner “and one”. His close in shot bared bounced out with 20 seconds left. The was a clutch attack, after Utah had claimed a 115 to 113 lead with 1:32 left in the fourth quarter. Alpie did make both his free throws in under maximum pressure. The Jazzmen’s Collin Sectoid Sexton missed a potentially downbeat game winner with 1.1 seconds left on the clock.

Thus the game went into overtime and the Jazz came out a bit stronger, taking a 123-119 lead that seemingly spelled doom for the Rockets, with 2:45 remaining in OT. Doom was averted, however, by Alperen Sengun and Jabari Smith, who were the only Rockets to score in the extra frame.

Jabari and Sengun brought the Rockets back to a tie game, at 126 all with 52 seconds left. The Rockets might have made things less dramatic after that, but Jabari Smith was fouled, and twisted his ankle fairly severely it seems, and missed one of his two free throws off one leg. The one he did make gave the Rockets their final lead, though, at 127-126.

The Rockets defended like maniacs for the last minute or so of overtime, in a gratifying sight. Simply having Dillon Brooks to defend the most threatening player from essentially shooting guard up to power forward, on the opposition is vital to this Rockets team. Alperen Sengun might have gotten the Rockets a little breathing room with 8 seconds left, but missed both free throws on a foul that saw Walker Kessler (finally) foul out.

The Jazz had the ball with 8 seconds left after the Sengun free throw miss, with a chance to win it on any made shot, but were out of timeouts as they hurried down the court. Jordan Clarkson got off a seemingly clean look for a game winning floater at the basket with two seconds left. Things looked bleak.

But lo, it was not to be! Amen Thompson, timing his defense perfectly, flew in out of nowhere to reject Sextron’s shot, with great vigor. That marked the end of an intense struggle, and the Rockets notched a badly needed, and hard-fought, win.

Particular standouts tonight were:

Alperen Sengun

37pts/14rbs/6ast/1stl/1blk/1TO 15-26FGA in 42 minutes. Sengun is the first Rocket to notch that high a combination of points, rebounds, and assists since, you guessed it, James Harden last played for the Rockets.

Jabari Smith

24pts/10rbs/1ast/2stl/1blk 9-19FGA in 41 minutes. These numbers are good, but don’t show Jabari’s tenacity, defense, and will to win late in the game, and in the overtime. He’s likely out at least a few games on his sprained ankle, and the Rockets really could use Tari Eason at this point.

Cam Whitmore

17pts/5rbs/1ast/2blk 6-13FGA in 27 minutes. Jalen Green, who really needs a bit of time off to hopefully get his mind right, sat for long stretches in favor of Whitmore, in the second half, and it was the right call. Not wanting to give up on Green, isn’t the same sentiment as not wanting to see a currently more effective player get time in crucial minutes.

Amen Thompson

6pts/8rbs/2ast/2stl/2blk 2-6FGA in 18 minutes. Thompson’s flying block was the “Amen” to Utah’s last second prayers.

It was great to get the win, and the big contribution from the rookies. The Rockets survived the final minutes of the 4th, and overtime, without Fred VanVleet. Fred had a good overall game, but continued his often miserable 3pt shooting at 2-10 tonight, but was 8-9 from 2pt range.

The Rockets of course face the NBA’s best team, again on the second night of a back-to-back, after an overtime game tonight. At this point it feels like the NBA schedule makers set the young Rockets up to be easily knocked down by the NBA’s darlings. They seem to always face NBA powerhouses on the second night of a back to back, but more investigation is needed, and I’m tired. Boston hasn’t played since Friday’s loss in the final seconds to Denver, a loss that snapped their undefeated home streak. At least we won’t have to hear the Boston Sports Junta talking about that streak anymore.

Good to get at least one win before the schedule attacks yet again.

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