11 April 2012
(Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)
The roller-coaster ride of dismay and elation that has been the recent Jazz playoff push continued tonight in Houston as the Rockets were dealt a convincing defeat by an intriguingly makeshift Utah starting line up. Gordon Hayward continued to demonstrate the full measure of his potential on offense, Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors prevented Houston from maintaining any momentum with solid rebounding and defense and mid-season acquisition DeMarre Carroll brought an inordinate amount of hustle to the Toyota Center, all of which prevented Houston from racking up their fifth win in a row after a four game road trip that saw them defeat Chicago and Los Angeles in addition to Portland and Sacramento.
The first six minutes of play were distressingly reminiscent of many recent Utah first quarters. The Jazz gave up an early lead quickly with an absence of defense and coherent offense but after some quick adjustments rapidly tied the game back up and finished the quarter strong with a 30-26 advantage, never to trail again. Utah would continue to win the first three quarters convincingly and only lose the fourth quarter by one point all while withstanding tremendously lopsided officiating and a worrisome run spearheaded by the recently returned Kyle Lowry's many trips to the free throw line.
Unlike the victory over San Antonio two nights ago, the Jazz defeated a team at near full strength on their home floor while facing the accompanying pressure of knowing that losing tonight meant falling further away from the eighth seed. Also at stake, the crucial tie break with Houston who it wouldn't be impossible to end the season tied with. Add all of that to the fact that four Jazz players didn't dress tonight because of injury or circumstance and you find that the Jazz have won a crucial game against significant odds in a highly interesting and impressive fashion.
The same Gordon Hayward who was booed on Draft Night 2010 and caught the stiff end of a frustrated Deron Williams' pass the same year, carried this depleted Utah Jazz team on his back tonight. In 39 minutes he scored a season high 29 points on immaculate free throw shooting (7-7), near immaculate shooting from beyond the arc (4-5), and a solid 64.2% (9-14) from everywhere else on the floor. He also snagged two rebounds and two steals and dished out six assists. It isn't All-Star material yet, but its the closest thing Utah has right now.
The rest of the Jazz (active) roster weren't bad either. With the exception of Burks and Kanter, every Utah player had a positive +/-. DeMarre Carroll had 10 points and 7 boards, Derrick Favors 10 points, 11 boards and 3 blocks. Jefferson had 15 points and three blocks. Paul Millsap, in spite of a slew of bad calls and missed calls and utter officiating neglect netted a mostly efficient 21 points and locked down three crucial steals.
Devin Harris, after a night of heroics against San Antonio, sat out the end of the game after being rendered relatively inefficient with foul trouble early. Upon his departure, a lineup headed by Jamaal Tinsley and Gordon Hayward let Houston back in the game on an 8-0 run but was able to answer with a 6-0 run of their own to close the game out for good.
The victory tonight sealed up another tiebreak for Utah, put a streaking Rockets team on ice and improved the odds that Utah makes the playoffs ever so slightly while preventing our playoff chances from collapsing almost entirely. The Jazz should look to avoid laying another egg after a big road win as they did a couple months ago in New Orleans after a big win in Memphis. It may be difficult however, to string a streak together as the Hornets are playing much improved basketball.
7 games remain. All of them will be huge. Get ready for an adrenaline rush or a giant letdown.
Final Score: Jazz 103 - Rockets 91
If the season ended today: The Jazz would be lottery bound.
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