Rockets’ Atomic Fourth Blows Away Jazz 99 – 120

December 18th, 2017 | by Clint Johnson

For much of the night, Donovan Mitchell (45) and the Jazz kept the Rockets off balance, until Eric Gordon’s (10) five fourth-quarter threes spurred a 37 to eight Houston sprint to victory. (AP Photo)

Story of the Game

Tell me if you’ve heard this one.

The Utah Jazz walked into an arena1. There they met the Houston Rockets. The two played a basketball game. The Jazz lost.

It’s an old joke that’s being played on pretty much every team in the Western Conference this season.

For better than three quarters, it looked like this joke might provide a punchline even more unexpected than “Utah wins in Boston” from three nights ago. Entering the fourth quarter, the Jazz held an 84 – 79 lead in what had been an oddly high scoring but stylistically grinding game. The Rockets, winners of their previous 13 games, were a touch lackadaisical, perhaps anticipating an easy victory against a team missing both Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors.

But Utah brought energy and discipline to the contest, defending as well on the perimeter as they have all season. They double teamed James Harden and Chris Paul frequently in the pick and roll, getting the Rockets to turn over the ball seven times in the first quarter alone. As the game progressed, Utah continued to attack Houston’s offensive drivers, taking the risk that role players would beat them. Through three quarters, Houston had made only nine of their 31 three point attempts (29 percent), not enough to punish the Jazz’s defensive aggression.

If Utah had made more than five of their own 18 threes to that point, would the night have been different?

Probably not. In the game’s final period, Houston shook off its lethargy and started to create offense from defense and move the ball in the half court. Where they had a mere 12 assists well into the third quarter, they ended the night with 25. Utah, playing its third game in four nights, couldn’t keep up the energy and was blown away in the Rockets’ wash.

In the final 9:49 if the game, Houston outscored Utah 37 to eight. It couldn’t be clearer than in the teams’ respective shot charts for that span.

While Eric Gordon’s 17 points in the quarter will draw the headlines, it was Chris Paul’s eight assists in the quarter that unlocked the Rockets offense.

For three quarters of this game, the Jazz defenders had their men dribbling the ball between their legs several times before hoisting pull up threes. While that happened, the short-handed Jazz were winning–barely. When Paul put Houston’s offensive gears back into alignment, the Jazz were blown away.

Stars of the Game

Superstar: Rodney Hood

Hood scored 26 on 18 shot attempts, including canning five of his 10 threes. He also added three rebounds, four assists, and two steals, a more well-rounded game than is typical for him. During the majority of the game, where Utah was in contention or managed to lead, Hood was the only Jazz player to make a three. Through three quarters Hood had all five of Utah’s made threes.

Secondary Star: Joe Ingles

17 points, four assists, and three rebounds is a solid game for a player who several seasons ago was considered a fringe NBA talent. But the most illuminating stat about the Aussie tonight is his 38 minutes played, a team high. Quin Snyder trusts Ingles as much as any player on this team. Maybe more than any other.

Secret Star: Alec Burks

Burks only played 16 minutes tonight because Rubio, Hood, and Ingles each soaked up more than 30. But in that time he produced eight points and four rebounds. His team-leading plus-six is nice but misleading. Any player not on the court in the fourth when the Rockets put the hammer down shows far better by this metric.

Stats of the Game

80 percent – The Rockets’ three point shooting through the first 11 minutes of the fourth quarter. They nailed eight of 10, five coming from Gordon as Houston punished Utah for trapping Harden and Paul.

58 – Utah’s points in the paint. Playing four and sometimes five players out to the three point line forced Houston’s centers to guard perimeter players, and Snyder’s scheme routinely forced switches to get that player–typically Clint Capela or Ryan Anderson–onto a Jazz perimeter scorer. Between drives to the basket and a number of fine cuts into the unprotected paint, Utah’s scored repeatedly inside.

4 – The team-high assists by a Jazz player, actually shared by three: Ricky Rubio, Inlges, and Hood. Utah managed only 17 assists total, the same number as their last loss to the Rockets.

21 – More free throws taken by Houston (27) than Utah (eight). The Jazz took only three the entire second half.

6 – Jazz turnovers, a season low.

14 – More shots attempted by the Jazz than the Rockets. It still wasn’t enough.

Sundries

  • With both Gobert and Favors out with injury, a quality NBA center should have feasted tonight and Clint Capela did. He posted a double double in the first half and ended the night with a monster line: 24 points (on 12 shots!), 20 rebounds, three assists, and two blocks. Though his offensive game is essentially less potent mimicry of Gobert, playing with Harden and Paul makes Capela a legitimate weapon off the pick and roll, particularly with lobs. With Utah missing 14 feet of interior starters, Capela faced little to no resistance all night.
  • Donovan Mitchell had his quietest night since November 22nd against Chicago, a mere six points on seven shots with two rebounds and an assist. He did add four big steals though. With so many perimeter players on the court at once, the motion offense was moving easily and didn’t require Mitchell’s one-on-one ability to create shots. It will be interesting to see how they make better use of the rookie in these lineups with more egalitarian sharing of the ball. It’s great not to ask Mitchell to carry the unreal weight he’s been burdened with recently, but they need to keep him more involved than this.
  • Is it possible that Hood has found his optimal NBA role as a professional scorer off the bench? That player is a staple throughout the league and typically fits the profile of the Sixth Man of the Year Award winner. Think Jamal Crawford, Lou Williams, Jason Terry, and of course Eric Gordon last year. Entering the year, I don’t think Jazz management or coaches hoped that’s the role Hood would best fill. They had aspirations of filling a Hayward-sized hole from within. But it’s now pretty clear that Hood just isn’t a jack-of-all trades package like Hayward. He’s not even a true scorer. He’s a prolific shooter. When the shot is going, he can put up points in the hurry. When it isn’t going, he doesn’t offer much else.
  • Utah had two lane violations called against them this game. Add that to the free throw disparity, and you get a pretty unfriendly night with the refs. While the Rockets are really, really good–maybe a threat to the Warriors kind of good–one thing I’m eager to see is how the team adapts to the greater physicality of the playoffs. Perhaps no team in the league gets the benefit on more calls than the Rockets. When those whistles dry up in the league’s second season, the team has sometimes fallen apart. It’ll be interesting to see Paul’s impact in this regard.
  • Joe Johnson, who got the start tonight, is now an unbelievable two of 24 from three this season! That’s eight percent!
  • The Rockets had a 15 – 0 run and an 11 – 0 run both in the fourth quarter! What devastation!
  • In the past three days, Utah played three games against teams ranked first, second and fourth in win percentage, and second, fourth, and fifth in net rating.  It’s hard to see how losing two of three, the last loss by more than twenty, could be the result of a team playing good basketball, but it’s true. Given their personnel right now, the Jazz are playing good basketball. They simply have a schedule that punishes anything less than phenomenal ball.

It seems a bad joke to say that Wednesday’s road contest against Russell Westbrook and Paul George2 will be one of December’s easier games, but it’s true. If the Jazz keep playing the way they have their past three contests, they can win that game. Given where they now stand, they need to win that game.

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson is a professional author, writing educator, and editor. He teaches writing at Salt Lake Community College. A frequent presenter at both writing and educational conferences, he writes about the Jazz as a break from his other writing work.

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