We had big performances, guys stepped up. Our guys composed themselves and started getting some stops and that opened things up for us. —Jazz coach Quin Snyder
HOUSTON — Before Wednesday’s game against the Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder didn’t want to hear about how important the game was, even though the two teams are jockeying for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
“It gets you on a slippery slope,” he said, pointing out that the game against the Rockets two months ago was just as big in the grand scheme of things and that every Jazz game is important.
But after a gutsy, come-from-behind 89-87 victory over the Rockets at the Toyota Center, Snyder was all smiles, reveling in his team’s resolve in overcoming an 18-point first-half deficit and sort of admitting how big the win was.
“We had big performances, guys stepped up,” he said. “Our guys composed themselves and started getting some stops and that opened things up for us.”
The victory was Utah’s first in Houston in nearly four years after six straight defeats and it leapfrogged the Jazz past the Rockets into the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference race at 35-36 while Houston dropped to 35-37.
The Jazz had several heroes on this night.
Gordon Hayward, celebrating his 26th birthday, scored 10 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter and made a huge steal in the final minute. Derrick Favors had 17 points and 15 rebounds and scored the winning basket with 1.6 seconds left. Rodney Hood overcame a rough night to hit a pair of big baskets in the second half and assisted Favors on the winning basket. Then there was Trevor Booker who ignited the Jazz with his energy and key plays in the second half, finishing with 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting.
“Tonight Book gave us a big contribution, big time,” said Snyder. “We try to have confidence in our guys . . . and they’ve got to make plays. Gordon, Rodney and Fave all made them tonight.”
The winning play came after the Rockets had tied the game at 87 on a Dwight Howard dunk with 22 seconds left.
The Jazz opted not to call timeout and were looking for a pick-and-roll with Hood and Hayward near the top of the key. Hood ended up with the ball and after dribbling for several seconds, he drove down the left side.
Hood lost his man and when Howard came over to defend him, Hood dished to Favors who was all alone for an easy dunk. James Harden’s 3-pointer at the buzzer after a timeout missed the mark.
“Got to give credit to Rod on that play,” said Favors. “He made the play. He was being pressured out on the perimeter and he made a good play to get in the paint and I just spaced out and got open and he dished it to me and made the shot.”
The Jazz had come out sort of sluggish and fell behind by four at the end of the first quarter and saw the margin reach 18 at 47-29 late in the second quarter before pulling within 49-34 at the half.
It almost seemed like the Jazz lulled Houston to sleep because when they came out with more intensity in the second half, the Rockets couldn’t match it.
An 11-1 run got the Jazz back in the game and even after the Rockets pushed the lead back to 11, the Jazz hung in there. They finally caught the Rockets with 6:03 left when Shelvin Mack, who finished with 16 on the night, sank a 3-pointer from the right angle to make it 73-73.
Mack made another big three with 55 seconds left to pull the Jazz into an 85-85 tie and then Hayward made his big steal when he got in front of Harden to intercept a pass from Patrick Beverley. Hayward then sank two free throws with 24.9 seconds left to put the Jazz up before Howard quickly tied the score at 87.
“I think this whole process right now is good,” said Snyder. “Whether it’s one game or a number of games. Just being in an environment like this one on the road or being in a hunt competitively puts your team in a situation that’s new for us all and it’s a good opportunity to get better.”
Now, the Jazz will head north for two more games on the road trip, playing at Oklahoma City Thursday night and at Minnesota Saturday night.
“It was a big win for us but we still got a lot of work to do got more games we’ve got to win,” said Favors.