Hayward goes for 31; Jazz drub Rockets
SALT LAKE CITY -- Stifling defense is a consistent trademark for the Utah Jazz this season. Now they are starting to blend in offensive explosiveness and it’s quickly turning the Jazz into one of the NBA’s most dangerous teams.
Utah gave Houston a taste of its own medicine in a 120-101 victory over the Rockets on Tuesday night. The Jazz scorched the nets early and often. It started on the perimeter where Utah was 15 of 28 from 3-point range. Those fireworks extended to around the basket where the Jazz crashed the glass for one offensive rebound after another and cut to the rim for a flurry of layups.
In short, Utah beat Houston by forcing the normally potent Rockets to spend extra time on defense.
“We wanted to make sure we made some of their guys guard,” Jazz forward Gordon Hayward said. “They’re so good on the offensive end, that’s kind of what they want to get to. You make them play on the defensive end too. And once you get stops, you’re able to run and maybe get some mismatches.”
Hayward did plenty on his own to make life miserable for Houston’s defense. He scored a season-high 31 points and added seven assists. Hayward fueled a critical fourth quarter stretch where Utah put the Rockets away for good with a series of baskets.
Rudy Gobert also made it tough for Houston to get into a rhythm. Gobert finished with 16 points, 14 rebounds and three blocked shots, notching his 11th double-double of the season. It helped the Jazz (11-8) win their fourth straight home game.
Rodney Hood added 19 points for the Jazz before leaving with a right hamstring strain in the third quarter.
With Gobert dominating the paint, Utah could afford to extend out defensively and keep the Rockets from kicking the ball into the corners for easy 3-pointers. They had to take tougher mid-range shots with limited success.
“He’s really good at what he does,” Houston coach Mike D’ Antoni said. “He makes it hard to get easy buckets. They can stay home with the 3-point shooter. They did their part. We just didn’t do our part.”
James Harden scored 26 points and dished out seven assists to lead the Rockets and Eric Gordon chipped in 24 points off the bench. Houston (11-7) trailed through all of the second, third and fourth quarters and lost for only the second time in its last seven games.
Harden had his usual big numbers, but didn’t enjoy his typical prime shot selection. Defensively, the Jazz forced him out of his comfort zone and pressured him into tougher shots with great success. They also shut down passing lanes for his teammates
“We know James Harden likes to throw lobs and find his teammates in the corner, so we tried to make him hit tough shots over me,” Gobert said.
Utah’s offense came out of the gates on fire. The Jazz shot a blistering 75 percent from the field in the first quarter, including 6 of 7 from 3-point range. It helped Utah weather an early scoring lift-off from the Rockets.
Houston sprinted out to a 16-9 lead after scoring baskets on five straight possessions. Ryan Anderson started the run with back-to-back 3-pointers and the Rockets kept it going with transition baskets.
Utah clamped down defensively in transition and, from that point forward, quickly erased the deficit. The Jazz scored baskets on nine straight possessions, bookended by 3-pointers from Hood and Trey Lyles, to take a 29-21 lead with 3:17 left in the first quarter. It swung momentum in their favor for good.
“It’s always tough to play here,” Gordon said. “They really had it going from the start. They knocked down a lot of shots. When you’re making a lot of threes, it changes the game and opens things up.”
Offensive fireworks continued into the second quarter for the Jazz. Utah twice built a 15-point lead, the second time on a George Hill 3-pointer with 6:01 left in the half that gave the Jazz a 53-38 cushion.
Houston briefly rallied early in the third quarter and cut Utah’s lead to 62-54 on back-to-back baskets from Harden and Clint Capela. The Jazz ripped off nine unanswered points, capped by a pair of free throws from Hayward, to push their lead to 71-54.
The Rockets cut Utah’s lead to single digits again before the end of the quarter, making it 82-73 on back-to-back 3-pointers from Gordon. Houston could not get any closer before the Jazz heated up on offense again to put the game out of reach.
Utah scored on 10 straight possessions to go up 114-93 with 4:11 remaining. Hayward ignited the run with a layup and capped it off with three straight baskets -- including a pair of 3-pointers.
“I started to get some better looks there in the fourth quarter,” Hayward said. “Got into a little bit of a rhythm. Teammates found me in good spots. I was able to knock down some good shots and see the ball go in and that was that.”
NOTES: F Gordon Hayward scored 14 of his season-high 31 points in the fourth quarter. He is the first Jazz player to score more than 30 points this season. ... Houston shot 40.7 percent from the field after averaging 50.6 percent on field goal shooting over the previous three games. ... Utah set a season high for points (120) and matched a season-high in 3-pointers made (15). ... The Rockets have scored 100 or more points in 11 of their last 12 games. G Eric Gordon is averaging 22.0 points on 45.5 percent shooting against Utah this season.