Yao, voted the starting center for the Western Conference in next month’s All-Star game, sat out with an upper respiratory infection, the first game he’s missed this season.
The 6-foot-7 Korver came to Utah on Dec. 29 in a trade with Philadelphia for Gordan Giricek. Korver has reached double figures in eight of 12 games since the trade, and his 17 points was his best game yet with his new team.
“It took me a couple of games to get the feel for the offense,” Korver said. “It’s different than what I was used to in Philly. Here, I feel like on every play, there is an opportunity for you to get the ball and score. You’ve just got to be ready.”
“I don’t feel like I have to have a perfect game for us to win,” Korver said. “In Philly, we had to play really good basketball to win. Here, we have a few more weapons.”
Tracy McGrady shook off a dismal first half to score 21, but Houston’s offense sputtered all night. The Rockets shot 44 percent from the field and went 9-for-19 from the free throw line.
“It was a tough loss,” McGrady said. “I felt we played well at times, but they just had a little bit too much.”
The Jazz have won eight of their last nine, though they averaged 111 points in their previous eight games. Utah had 60 points after three quarters before scoring 37 points in the final quarter behind Williams’ eight assists.
Williams sensed the Rockets wore down late.
“They made their little run. That was a little scary for us,” Williams said. “We hung in there, got some stops when we needed them, Kyle hit some big shots and we executed down the stretch.”
Boozer scored inside off a nice pass from Williams with 4:36 left to put the Jazz up 80-76. Williams swished an off-balance shot from the corner on Utah’s next possession.
Korver nailed back-to-back 3-pointers to complete a 14-3 run and give Utah an 88-77 lead. The Rockets got no closer than eight, losing for just the third time in 12 games.
“I just felt like, if it came down to the end, based on the two of us with equal records,” McGrady said, “that this was one of those games we had to win.”
The teams combined for 10 turnovers in an ugly first quarter that ended with Utah up 19-16. The Jazz missed 17 of their first 24 shots and only managed to lead by sinking their first six free throws.
Utah improved its shooting before the half ended, while the Rockets continued to sputter. Houston shot 34 percent (14-of-41) in the first half and trailed 41-35. McGrady started 1-for-8.
Despite Yao’s absence, Boozer was 2-for-6 in the half and had only seven points.
Still, he was glad he didn’t ever see the imposing Yao on the floor.
“It gave us some lanes for us to drive to the hoop and make some free throws,” Boozer said. “They really don’t have any shot blockers, so we could attack a little bit.”
Seldom-used sharpshooter Steve Novak sank two 3-pointers in the third quarter as Houston rallied from seven points down to tie the game at 56-all.
Matt Harpring hit a jumper and sank two free throws early in the fourth quarter as Utah retook a slim lead.
With 6:22 left, McGrady fell into the crowd after he was fouled by Mehmet Okur and appeared to injure a finger on his left hand. He missed two free throws, keeping Houston down 74-72.
The teams met for the first time in Houston since the Jazz eliminated the Rockets in the first round of last year’s playoffs.
McGrady started for the first time since returning from a left knee injury that sidelined him for 11 games. McGrady had come off the bench in the last four games, steadily increasing his minutes. … Scola started for Yao and had 18 points. … During a timeout in the third quarter, a toddler ran onto the court. Referee Dick Bavetta picked up the girl and carried her back to her embarrassed parents, seated in one of the end zones. … Jazz G Jason Hart sat out with back inflammation.