Harden's laser focus helps ignite Rockets to win over Jazz
SALT LAKE CITY — If James Harden seemed to have a laser focus in the second half of Monday’s game, you might blame — or credit — a fan attending the Rockets' 93-91 win over the Utah Jazz.
In a bizarre moment, the game was stopped while Harden and a referee pointed up into the stands at a fan who was pointing a flashlight at the Rocket star’s eyes while he was shooting free throws.
“Some guy was lasering me,” Harden explained. “I saw it the first time. I thought it was just a picture being taken, so I went up to the foul line again and it happened again. The referee caught it before I did.”
The game eventually resumed after the brief break, and Harden missed his second free throw. That was one of the few things he did wrong during a critical juncture when the three-time All-Star took over in the third quarter.
The Jazz led 72-57 when Harden hit a 3-pointer to begin a personal scoring spurt. By the time Harden had finished his 12-5 run against the Jazz, Houston had trimmed Utah’s lead to 77-69 going into the fourth quarter.
The Rockets continued to surge after that, and Harden eventually gave the slumping visitors the lead for good at 89-87 with a putback layup (after his own miss) with 1:54 remaining.
Harden missed a couple of shots in the final two minutes and fouled Rodney Hood behind the 3-point line, giving the Jazz a chance to force overtime. But Hood missed the third of his three free throws and the Rockets escaped with a much-needed victory.
Harden, the recipient of much scorn from Jazz fans, led all scorers with 30 points on 9-of-25 shooting as Houston snapped a four-game losing streak.
“He was aggressive,” Rockets coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “We recognized a certain play that was working for us, so we went back to that play. He and Jason Terry in the pick-and-roll, you have two guys who are capable of scoring. They provided a mismatch if they (the Jazz) decided to switch it.”
Harden scored 22 points in the second half after Utah took a 58-48 halftime lead. He even provided a bit of momentum for the Rockets going into the locker room at the break by nailing a last-second 3-pointer at the end of the second quarter.
The Rockets, who were outscored 14-0 on second-chance buckets and outrebounded 44-34 in the first half, then outscored the Jazz 45-33 in the second half after a 37-point second quarter for Utah.
Harden credited his team’s “focus” for the turnaround.
“I think we did a good job. Defensively we did a good job. We just had to rebound the basketball,” Harden said. “They had too many offensive rebounds and we turned the basketball over too many times. That was the story in the first half.
“We kind of limited that in the second half, got some stops, rebounded the basketball and we got some buckets to fall.”
Harden seemed to have lucked out when the referees didn’t call him or teammate Montrezl Harrell for a foul when they both hit driving Jazz center Jeff Withey with 25 seconds remaining. A Withey bucket — or two free throws — would have tied the game at 91.
The fan in the Vivint Smart Home Arena stands wasn’t so lucky.
He was escorted out by security, kicked out of the building and was given a one-year ban from NBA games for, as Jazz PR described it, “aiming a flashlight at a player during a game.”
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