SALT LAKE CITY — In the Utah Jazz’s first game at home against the Houston Rockets since getting eliminated by them in the second round of the postseason last spring on Thursday night, there was certainly a playoff atmosphere.
Jazz center Rudy Gobert was ejected just 2:47 into the game when he swiped a cup on his way to the bench after picking up his second questionable foul (the first came on tipoff), and from there, both Gobert’s teammates and the Vivint Arena crowd were riled up.
Utah carried its fire to a monstrous performance, as it dominated the Rockets 118-91. The Jazz have now won four of their last five games, while Houston dropped its second straight and sixth in its last eight contests. It marked the second time Utah has beaten the Rockets in two meetings this season.
“Our team was prepared mentally to play. We were focused on the right things,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said. “We paid attention in detail on the defensive end...were focused on execution.”
Utah moved to 13-13 on the year, clawing back to the .500 mark for the first time since Nov. 17 when it beat the Boston Celtics on the road. The Rockets dropped to 11-13 on the season.
Carrying much of the load for Gobert’s absence, Derrick Favors led all scorers with 24 points and pulled down 10 rebounds. Houston star guards James Harden and Chris Paul combined for just 27 points, with Harden’s 15 leading the Rockets.
“What he gave us tonight was unique,” Snyder said of Favors.
Said Favors: "It felt good. It felt good, just to come out, play hard, play as a team and get a win. When Rudy went out, I saw it as an opportunity for myself to take advantage of it and I did and we got a win."
Five Jazzmen finished in double figures.
Snyder had particular praise for seldom-used Ekpe Udoh, who was huge in the second quarter in slowing Harden and Paul
“I wish Rudy would have been able to stay in the game,” Snyder said. “More than what happened to Rudy, the story was what Favors and Ekpe were able to do.”
With the game tied at 16 at the 4:14 mark of the first quarter, a fired up Utah squad went on an 11-0 run to open up a double-digit lead before Houston guard Eric Gordon stopped the bleeding with a layup.
The Jazz led 27-18 after the first frame as they shot 10 of 20 from the field compared to just 6 of 23 from the Rockets. In an incredibly physical quarter, 12 personal fouls were called, leading to a combined 13 free throws.
The physicality died down a bit from there, but Utah stretched its lead up to 15 points at 49-34 with less than four minutes to play in the second quarter, before Houston went on a bit of a run to cut the deficit to 53-45 at halftime.
If there was any thought that Houston was in position to make a run coming out of halftime, the Jazz quickly and emphatically shut that idea down. They scored the first nine points of the third quarter and 15 of the first 17 to open up a 19-point lead. By the 3:53 mark of the stanza, Utah led by 25, 79-54.
"We talked about it. We wanted to come out in the third quarter and really win the game," Jae Crowder said. "I think our communication on both ends of the court was very connected. All guys on the court were connected, and it showed. We opened the game up in the third quarter."
The Jazz stretched the lead to 35 at the end of the quarter, and it would have been 38 if a Royce O’Neale long-distance heave hadn't gone in and out.
Utah outscored Houston 38-11 in the quarter.5 comments on this story
At that point, Utah was shooting 50 percent from the field compared to just 34 percent for the Rockets, had 13 more assists, 12 fewer turnovers, 12 more fast break points, nine more steals and 26 more points in the paint.
The Jazz finished with comfortable leads in all those categories.
Utah will have a few days off before heading back out on the road for two games. The Jazz will play the San Antonio Spurs for the second time in five days on Sunday and the Oklahoma City Thunder for the first time this season on Monday in a rematch of the first round of last season’s playoffs.