As Rockets’ streak hits 10, Jabari Smith Jr. makes up for lost time with clutch plays in OKC

One thing that stands out about second-year Rockets forward Jabari Smith Jr. is that he is the ultimate team player. As long as he’s on the court and in the battle, Smith has made it clear that he is willing to do whatever it takes for Houston to be successful.

That is why his one-game suspension for getting into a minor skirmish with Utah Jazz guard Kris Dunn last Saturday impacted him, especially while his team is in a close race with the Golden State Warriors to make the Western Conference play-in tournament.

On Wednesday in Oklahoma City, Smith was eager to make up for lost time — and perhaps too eager. Smith committed two fouls in under two minutesand had to sit down, and that lack of rhythm played a role in a dismal 1-for-5 (20%) first-half shooting performance.

It was not the ideal start, but the No. 3 overall selection in the 2022 NBA draft (after one college season at Auburn) knew that he had to stay the course and be there when his team needed him.

With Houston trailing by one point with 26 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Jalen Green moved toward the lane, drawing three defenders and leaving Smith open beyond the 3-point line in the left corner.

As Green got deeper in the lane, he made the pass to Smith. Without hesitation, Smith shot a 24-foot trey over the outstretched arms of Oklahoma City’s Josh Giddey that hit nothing but net, putting the Rockets up by two points with 21.7 seconds left to play.

After the Thunder rallied to force overtime, Smith then hit another clutch 3-pointer to help Houston keep its current winning streak alive at 10 games, courtesy of the 132-126 win in Oklahoma City.

“I was seeing him [Green] going aggressive to the rim, as he had done all night,” said Smith, who finished with 16 points. “They collapsed, as they should, and they left me open in the corner, and I knocked it down. I could tell when he (Green) was driving, my man was kind of gravitating towards him because he had been cooking all night, but he made the right read and found me in the corner.”

As happy as Rockets head coach Ime Udoka was about Smith hitting the big shot late in regulation, he was more excited that Green was able to recognize the defenders rotating towards him. From there, he was able to make the right read of the Thunder defense, which had been sending multiple defenders his way all night.

“It was huge,” Udoka said when asked about Green’s decision-making. “We just showed the team that. Basically, it was our favorite play of the game. We just showed four guys in the paint, and he made the right pass. Dillon [Brooks] made two big ones [in overtime] after going 1-for- 9, and Jabari, who was struggling with the fouls early, didn’t hesitate, and Jalen didn’t hesitate to pass to him. Great pass, great growth. I’m proud of them for that play.”

Houston will look for its 11th consecutive win on Friday as it heads to Utah to play the Jazz for the second time in a week. This time, Smith will do everything he can to avoid having to leave early.

Story originally appeared on Rockets Wire