Jazz 86, Rockets 83
HOUSTON (AP)—The Utah Jazz lead the league in winning games in which they were down 10 points or more.
They’ve done it 16 times this season. The Jazz came just short of adding to that number on Sunday, as they only had to work their comeback magic to overcome a nine-point deficit in an 86-83 victory over the Houston Rockets.
With the victory, in a game that will likely be a preview for the first round of the playoffs, the Jazz remain ahead of the Rockets in fourth place in the Western Conference standings.
“If we play defense, we can beat anybody,” said Utah’s Deron Williams. “If we match up with Houston in the playoffs, it will be great series.”
Houston led 77-70 before Utah scored five straight points to get within two with 3:10 remaining. The teams exchanged a pair of baskets before a three-point play by Matt Harpring gave Utah an 82-81 lead with 1:35 remaining.
“I kept cutting all game and I wasn’t able to get open until that last time,” Harpring said. “They might deny that play eight times in a row, but we still keep looking for it and it paid off big.”
Jazz coach Jerry Sloan called the sequence by Harpring “the play of the ball game,” but refused to look toward the playoffs before the season is over.
“I’m very concerned with what we do every game and I am not concerned about the playoffs at this time,” he said. “We’ll play whoever is there and hopefully we’ll do our best. I’ve known who we are as a team all season long.”
Boozer was fouled on a layup and made the free throw to extend the lead to 85-81 with 43 seconds left. Tracy McGrady pulled Houston within two on the next possession and the Rockets got the ball back after a miss by Boozer.
But Rafer Alston badly missed a 3-point attempt with about 10 seconds left and Houston was forced to foul. Okur made only the first to give the Rockets a chance to tie, but McGrady missed a 3-point attempt at the buzzer.
“There was miscommunication on a couple of guys’ part,” McGrady said of the last possession. “They didn’t know where to go and they didn’t set screens. I couldn’t get open and nobody could get open.”
Yao Ming led the Rockets with 35 points and 16 rebounds, and also blocked four shots. McGrady added 20 points.
“The last four minutes we let them score too easy off of second shots and off of cuts,” Yao said. “They scored on our mistakes and we cannot allow that to happen.”
Williams added 12 points, 11 assists and five rebounds for Utah. Gordan Giricek and Harpring added nine points apiece.
A basket by Giricek with 6:46 remaining got Utah within 71-70, but two free throws by Yao and two baskets by Juwan Howard stretched Houston’s lead to 77-70 two minutes later. Howard finished with 10 points.
“It was a bad loss because we beat ourselves,” McGrady said. “We stopped executing and we stopped getting loose balls and we stopped executing on the defensive end. That cost us the game.”
Houston used an 8-0 run to erase a four-point halftime deficit and take a 40-36 lead early in the third quarter. After hitting a pull-up 3-pointer that capped that run, McGrady ran to Yao and the two exchanged a handshake followed by a chest bump.
The Rockets led 58-49 after Andrei Kirilenko’s block of McGrady’s shot tipped it in. The Jazz then outscored Houston 10-3 in the final minutes of the third quarter to cut the lead to 61-59.
“It feels good now, but it is a tough road ahead and we’ll see who we are with a tough schedule ahead,” Okur said.
Utah led by as many as 10 points in the first quarter and was ahead 36-32 at halftime. Yao scored Houston’s first 10 points and 18 of the team’s first 22 as McGrady struggled, managing only three points in the first half until hitting two quick buckets just before halftime.
The Rockets were without Luther Head, who missed his second straight game with a bruised right shoulder. … Williams’ 11 assists marks the 31st time this season that he’s reached double-digits in that category.