Harpring hit a game-tying 3-pointer with one-tenth of a second left in regulation and added two baskets in overtime to lead the Jazz to a 103-101 victory over the Rockets in the opener of a home-and-home series.
The Jazz have won 19 of the last 21 meetings from their Midwest Division rivals, including both this season. The teams will play again Wednesday night at the Delta Center.
The Rockets took the lead when Steve Francis hit 1-of-2 free throws with 1:03 left in the fourth quarter and Yao Ming converted a pair from the line with 3.5 seconds remaining to increase the advantage to 94-91.
But the Jazz tied it when Harpring, a 41 percent 3-point shooter, arched a jumper over the outstretched hand of 7-5 Yao Ming. Harpring made the inbounds pass, took a return feed from Karl Malone and launched the tying shot.
“I was the third option,” said Harpring, who finished with 24 points on 11-of-14 shooting. “We knew if we threw it in to Karl, I was going to back door for the three. Right when I shot it I thought, `Uh-oh, I’ve got to get this one up high.’ I knew it had a chance.”
“He’s a very, very good shooter,” said Jazz coach Phil Johnson who is filling in for the suspended Jerry Sloan. “He does have a high arc on his shot and he made a big shot for us.”
Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich was disappointed his team did not foul before Harpring launched his shot.
“At the end (of regulation), we were supposed to foul, force them to make free throws and we didn’t,” Tomjanovich said. “It was heartbreaking. We did so many good things, and just one blown assignment. We couldn’t get it done.”
Malone hit a 12-foot turnaround jumper 15 seconds into overtime to put Utah ahead for good. After Cuttino Mobley converted 1-of-2 free throws for Houston, Harpring scored on a layup and a corner jumper with 1:56 left to increase the lead to 100-95.
Terence Morris hit a pair of 3-pointers, the second coming with 39 seconds remaining and pulling the Rockets within 103-101.
After Utah’s John Stockton missed a foul line jumper with 19 seconds left, Yao grabbed the rebound and the Rockets called a timeout. With the Jazz keying on Francis and Yao, Mobley had a chance to tie it but missed an eight-foot jumper in the lane with three seconds left.
“The ball was in Cuttino’s hands,” Yao said through an interpreter. “They were double-teaming me and the best choice was to pass the ball to the open man.”
“It hurts because we played well enough to win,” said Mobley, who made just 2-of-13 shots. “If I had made a couple more shots, I think we would have been more comfortable. I didn’t have a good shooting night, but we’ll see what we can do when we go up there tomorrow.”
The loss, coupled with the Los Angeles Lakers’ win over Denver, cut Houston’s lead to one-half game for the final Western Conference playoff spot.
Malone took advantage of his weekend of rest after being snubbed for the All-Star Game and scored 14 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter, helping the Jazz rally from an eight-point deficit.
“I welcomed that time off,” the 14-time All-Star forward said. “You can say, I should have been there. As long as I’m an All-Star for my teammates, I’ve got some satisfaction.”
Stockton finished one rebound shy of his first regular season triple-double, collecting 18 points, 11 assists and nine boards. The 18-year veteran had a triple-double in a playoff game against Dallas on April 28, 2001.
“If I get up to that number (of rebounds), it means I’ve chased down some long ones,” Stockton said.
Francis had 28 points and Yao added 25 and 10 rebounds for the Rockets.
“Down the stretch, some things didn’t go our way and I’m not going to cry about it one bit,” said Francis, who hit 10-of-17 shots. “We’ve got to suck it up and look forward to playing them tomorrow. We have to come prepared tomorrow, and it’s going to be worse at their place.”
The Rockets took their biggest lead, 82-73, on a hook shot by Maurice Taylor with 8:45 left in the fourth quarter. But Malone scored eight points to spark an 18-9 run over the next 7 1/2 minutes.
Stockton capped the spurt with a three-point play, driving past Francis and converting a layup as he was fouled with 1:14 left. His free throw forged a 91-91 deadlock.
Francis drew a foul on center Greg Ostertag driving to the basket and converted 1-of-2 free throws with 1:03 left to give the lead back to Houston.
After misses by Ostertag, Malone and Andrei Kirilenko, Yao grabbed a rebound and was fouled by Kirilenko with 3.5 seconds left. He converted both free throws before Harpring forced overtime.
Utah converted 12-of-15 shots in the first quarter but led just 26-24. Harpring and Malone were a combined 8-of-9 from the field, but the Jazz committed seven turnovers.
Utah led by as many as six points in the second quarter. But Yao scored eight points during a 17-8 run as the Rockets took a 45-42 lead with 1:48 left before halftime.
A 15-foot jumper by Malone with 28 seconds left put the Jazz back in front at the break, 48-47.
Utah had a 67-61 lead with 3:45 left in the third quarter before Yao made two free throws and a short jumper and Francis connected on a 3-pointer, a pair of free throws and a short jumper in an 11-0 run.