Jazz Find Offensive Groove and Beat Rockets

Photo: Melissa Majchrzak NBAE/Getty ImagesPhoto: Melissa Majchrzak NBAE/Getty Images

The Utah Jazz may have finally found a groove offensively.

Behind 29 points from Gordon Hayward and 21 from Trey Burke, the Jazz defeated the Houston Rockets 109-103 Monday night in convincing fashion.

The Jazz didn’t get their fourth win of the season easily, though. The last time the Rockets paid the Jazz a visit, Utah held a large lead for most of the game before squandering if in the 2nd half. A sense of deja-vu overtook the EnergySolutions Arena as the Jazz gave up a 13 point lead after the first quarter. Hayward scored 17 points in the first 12 minutes, and Burke added 10. Such an offensive performance was incredibly impressive from Hayward, as he’s been shooting under 30% from the field through the 10 games preceding Monday night’s win against the Rockets.

“It’s good to see the ball go in the hoop,” Hayward said after the game. “It’s been bugging me recently, and I just tried to go out there and attack and play with confidence.”

Adding to Hayward’s hot hand, Burke had a very strong opening quarter. Since coming back from his injury, Burke has been shaking off some rust. During the win in Phoenix Saturday night and the win at home Monday, Burke is starting to look like the point guard a lot of fans thought he would be. His ability to see the court, make the right basketball play, and deliver accurate passes in the pick-and-roll is improving with every minute of NBA action he sees. That offensive fire Burke and Hayward brought in the first quarter didn’t last though, as the Rockets stormed back to take a 45-44 lead with 3:38 left in the first half.

After some back and forth play and questionable defense, the Jazz ended the half with a 53-50 lead. Hayward had 19 points, one point shy of his career high for points in a half (he had 20 in the second half against Denver in his rookie year). The Jazz had 11 assists to only six turnovers, a 1.83 assist-to-turnover ratio – very impressive for a team that’s struggled with turnovers all season long. Also impressive in the first half was the fact that Utah shot 52.4% from the field, far above their season average of 42.5%.

Entering the third quarter, it was imperative that the Jazz find a way to contain Houston’s potent offensive attack. Utah went into Monday night’s game as the 16th best team in the NBA in points allowed per game at 100.2.  After a spirited third quarter that involved some great defense from Derrick Favors on Houston big man Dwight Howard and 10 more points from Hayward, Utah found themselves on the good end of an 82-74 lead. Another fun fact – through three quarter of basketball, Utah shot 57.6% from the field. When shots are dropping for this Utah team, they’re pretty good.

Now the fourth quarter was a wild ride, as it’s been all season when the Jazz have managed to end a game with a win. The final 12 minutes of action was a giant tug-of-war, with the lead hanging in the balance. Houston tied the game at 86 with eight minutes to play, and then Burke promptly upped the ante with a three ball on the other end. The rest of the fourth followed that same back-and-forth pattern. The highlight of the night was most definitely when Marvin Williams stole the ball and ran the length of the court for a one-handed slam to give the Jazz a 103-98 lead with two minutes left to go in the game.

Houston tried to rally behind a three ball from James Harden with 59.5 seconds left, but the Jazz didn’t let that shot faze them. After an empty offensive possession for Utah, Williams blocked Aaron Brooks on a drive to the hoop, prompting a Rockets fouls with 13.5 seconds left. One free throw made it a 109-103 victory for the Jazz.

A few great story lines stood out in Monday night’s win. Burke had 21 points and 6 assists and didn’t turn the ball over a single time.  He’s looking increasingly comfortable with every game he plays, and fans are beginning to see the great point guard Utah selected with the seventh pick in the draft.

“The position I play, it’s critical for me to stay poised. Houston made some runs tonight, but it was my job to not show the team I’m flustered…I’m pretty much the quarterback out there. I just try to stay poised and make sure I’m confident,” Burke said after the game.

Along with Burke’s poise and calm out there on the court, Derrick Favors had a double-double – against Howard. Favors’ 14 points and 13 rebounds are only part of the story, however. His defense on Howard was immeasurably important, especially down the stretch in critical situations. As was mentioned earlier, the Jazz aren’t a great defensive team – 16th in the league going into Monday night’s game. While Utah did give up 103 points, they played great defense when it counted. Playing defense in crunch minutes is when it really counts and Favors’ defense was the biggest part of Utah’s defensive success.

“Dwight is a great player, so my whole thing for tonight was to try to make him make tough shots. I know he’s going to get a couple dunks and hook shots in, but my job it to make it tough on him,” Favors said on his defense tonight.

Favors certainly fulfilled his job, as Howard only scored 15 points and grabbed nine rebounds.

Alec Burks had another great game, scoring 21 points on 7-11 shooting. Burks has struggled with his shot selection at times this season, but seeing him make great shots and score quite a few points is a great indicator that he’s learning and progressing as a player.

Four Jazz players were in double figures in points – Burke, Favors, Burks, and Hayward, with Burke and Hayward both scoring more than 20 points. All in all, this win comes off as the most impressive win of the year. After winning three of their last four, and posting back-to-back wins for the first time this season, Utah looks to be finding their identity as a team in the NBA.

Next up the Jazz welcome the NBA’s best team, the Indiana Pacers to Salt Lake City.

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