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Sunday January 9, 2011 1:10 AM

Jazz Leave Rockets Singing The Blues

Houston falls short in overtime, drops 5th straight with 103-99 loss to Utah

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com

HOUSTON - Statistically speaking, close games are supposed to be 50-50 propositions. With such contests often coming down to little more than a missed shot here or a bad break there, predicting the outcome of down-to-the-wire affairs is often no different than flipping a coin and calling heads or tails.

The Rockets, however, have had no such luck. To the contrary, they seem to be stuck in the hoops version of a rut that finds them calling heads, only to see tails show up time and time again.

Their ill fortune cost them once more Saturday night as the Utah Jazz stormed back from a 16-point first half deficit to add yet another devastating defeat to a Rockets’ season that’s already chock full of them. Houston’s 103-99 overtime loss dropped the club’s record in games decided by 6 points or fewer to an unsightly 3-9. What’s more, it also extended the Rockets’ losing streak to five games – Houston’s second such streak of the season – a reality so distasteful it had Shane Battier summoning the spirit of the late, great Winston Churchill in a search for inspiration after the game.

“We’ve got to play through it, fight through it,” he said. “Winston Churchill said when you’re going through hell, keep going. Hopefully we can turn it around, win a few games and get the confidence back.”

For the longest time Saturday evening, it appeared this would be the game that saw the Rockets get back on track. Houston rode a strong defensive performance in the first half to a big early lead it didn’t relinquish until the final two minutes of regulation. The Rockets had Utah baffled, flummoxed and completely out of sync during the first two quarters of play, limiting the Jazz to a paltry 38 first half points on 41 percent shooting to go along with 10 turnovers. Houston, meanwhile, was receiving contributions from up and down its roster and deserved every bit of the 14-point lead it owned at halftime.

Yet whatever momentum the Rockets took with them to the locker room apparently stayed there for the start of the second half. Suddenly Utah was the dominant defensive team, holding the Rockets to just 15 third quarter points – a mark nearly matched by Al Jefferson, who poured in 14 in the frame on his own.

Houston came back to life in the fourth quarter, but by then it was too late to put the Jazz genie, otherwise known as Deron Williams, back in the bottle. Unleashed and unrelenting, Williams (14 points, 15 assists) and Utah applied the full force of their lethal pick and roll, a play that put the Rockets in a pick-your-poison position time and time again down the stretch.

And no one benefited more than did Paul Millsap, who up until the mid-way point of the fourth quarter had been completely outclassed by Houston’s own All-Star candidate at the power forward position, Luis Scola (24 points, 10 rebounds). With five and a half minutes left in regulation, Millsap had tallied a mere 4 points. But beginning with a pair of made free throws at the 5:28 mark, Millsap suddenly became a beast the Rockets couldn’t even begin to tame. The fifth-year forward went on to score 11 points in the quarter, before exploding for an even dozen in overtime, finishing with 27 points and 10 boards – unfathomable numbers given the way Houston had kept him in check throughout much of the evening.

Houston’s offense, meanwhile, simply couldn’t put the ball in the basket enough to keep their rivals at bay. The Rockets hit just 37.8 percent of their shots from the field but that tells only part of the story. Houston was 3-for-25 from the 3-point arc, a shocking figure for a team that came into the night ranked fourth in the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage.

“The second half, we just couldn't get anything going offensively and it costs us,” lamented Rockets Head Coach Rick Adelman. “We shot it poorly. We missed a lot of open looks. Give them credit. They came out and made some plays when they had to.

“I've seen them come back three or four times down by 20 against good teams. We talked about that at half time. We came out in the third quarter without any energy like we did in the first half. I don't know why because we certainly talked about it. It's not like we didn't understand that we had to win a game. Once they got in it, it was anybody's game.”

It was, in essence, a coin flip. And much to the Rockets’ chagrin, the coin came up tails on them once again.

QUOTES

RICK ADELMAN

(final play of regulation): We had a really good opportunity. Kevin had a lot of room, he just fumbled the ball. Those things happen when things aren’t going right.

(Jazz pick-and-roll down the stretch with Williams and Millsap): That’s what Williams does. You pick your poison. (Millsap) hadn’t been making or even looking for his shot but, give him credit, that’s their bread and butter. They have (Millsap) popping out to the free throw line and Jefferson to jam it in and they have 3-point shooters out there. It’s a tough play, that’s why everyone runs it and (Williams) is one of the best in the league at doing it.

(On the game) “The second half, we just couldn't get anything going offensively and it costs us. We shot it (the ball) poorly. We shot below thirty percent, missed a lot of open looks. Give them (Jazz) credit. They came out and made some plays when they had to.”

(On the Jazz) “It's a combination of both, I think. You know they're going to come out. I've seen them come back three or four times down by 20 (points) against good teams. We talked about that at half time. We came out in the 3rd quarter without any energy like we did in the first half. I don't know why because we certainly talked about it. It's not like we didn't understand that we had to win a game. Once they got in it, it was anybody's game. That's a good team. That's a tough team to play down the stretch with (Deron) Williams running the show.”

SHANE BATTIER

We played real passive in the second half again and you just can’t win in this league like that. We have to stay aggressive and we have to continue to attack like we did in the first half. If we don’t, we’re not a great team.

I think once they start to score some easy baskets and we missed some shots, our energy level drops and we start looking to the refs to bail us out and that leads to bad basketball, and there was some bad basketball in the fourth quarter on our part.

(Jazz pick-and-roll): We were a step slow in our rotations and the game plan was to let Millsap shoot that shot… he got going pretty well and he made us pay for it.

(confidence lacking?): We’ve got to play through it, fight through it. Winston Churchill said when you’re going through hell, keep going. Hopefully we can turn it around, win a few games and get the confidence back.

(feel like you’re going through hell?): NBA hell, yeah. 5-game losing streaks are NBA hell. Not as bad as 6-game losing streaks, though.

KYLE LOWRY

It hurts. Mentally it’s draining… We missed a lot of shots we usually make. We stopped being aggressive defensively. We just had a let down.

LUIS SCOLA

(Millsap’s huge finish): He just got a few post-ups, he grabbed a couple loose balls and put them in and he grew in confidence and when they played the pick-and-roll he was hitting shots.

We got to a point where we were controlling the game and then they came back and the momentum changed. Then, they ( Utah) got the momentum and everything was easier for him. Every loose ball and every situation it was getting harder and harder for us. So, that's what happens when you have the momentum the whole game and you lose it when you need to keep it.

I don’t want to be disrespectful to them and I really, really respect their team but I believe that today’s game was all on us.

UTAH COACH JERRY SLOAN

(On what he said at halftime) “Nothing. They know as a team what they are supposed to do and they came out the second half and did it. Paul and Al came out hot in the second half and our guys got them the ball where they could make baskets. I was glad with the way our guys fought back.

(On Millsap’s play) “He was just terrific. He shot the ball well when they left him open and made all the plays down the stretch”

(On his teams play) “If we can stay together as a group we’ll be okay. I was proud of the way we fought back to win on the road.”

PAUL MILLSAP

(On his play) “You just want to get shots off and tonight they were falling. I felt great. They were leaving me open and Deron (Williams ) was getting me the ball. I had a great feeling. I didn’t feel as though I could miss.

DERON WILLIAMS

(On the key to comeback) “We played a lot harder defensively in the second half. We took a step forward as a team. We played (poorly) in the first half. In the second half we got after them more and didn’t let them get easy baskets”

(On teams play) “We were struggling in the first half and we were able to turn it around. It seems like our team has more energy in the second half and that’s the way it’s been this season.

AL JEFFERSON

(On the key to the game) “Our energy, rebounding and the way we were pushing the ball up the court. We have to continue to drill those things into our head. It was a big win. It sucks to put ourselves in that position but we just have to keep on playing.”

NOTES

The Rockets dropped a 103-99 decision to the Jazz in overtime tonight, marking Houston’s fifth consecutive overall loss (1/2/11-1/8/11) and its third straight overtime defeat. The Rockets matched their longest losing streak of the season at five in a row (other: 10/26/10-11/6/10).

Utah overcame a 16-point deficit in the victory tonight, which marked the second straight home outing Houston has dropped a double-digit lead in a loss. The Trail Blazers overcame a 13-point deficit (89-76 with 9:33 left) in the fourth quarter for a 103-100 win over the Rockets at Houston (1/5/11).

Overall, it marked just the fourth time this season for an opponent to return from a double-figure deficit to defeat the Rockets. The Jazz picked up a 12th come-from-behind victory this season when down by double digits.

The Rockets held the Jazz to just 38 points (16-39 FG) over the opening two quarters. It marked the lowest first-half point total by a Houston opponent since a season-low 33 points by the Memphis Grizzlies at Houston (12/17/10).

Houston scored 37 second-half points on 9-of-36 (.250) shooting and had 15 points in the third quarter on just 4-of-20 (.200) from the field, setting its season lows in field goal percentage for a half (prev. low: .324 in second half on 1/2/11 at Portland) and a quarter (prev. low: .250 in second quarter on 11/29/10 at Dallas).

Luis Scola recorded 24 points (9-17 FG, 6-8 FT) and 10 rebounds tonight, giving Scola his eighth double-double on the season and the 78th of his career.

Kevin Martin, who set the Rockets Toyota Center record in scoring with a season-high 45 points (13-18 FG, 6-8 3FG, 13-15 FT) in the last home game vs. Portland (1/5/11), had 20 points (6-15 FG, 8-10 FT) tonight. Houston is now 15-12 this season when Martin scores at least 20 points.

Shane Battier registered 10 points (4-9 FG), six rebounds and three steals tonight. He has now reached double-figure scoring in three consecutive games (1/5/11-1/8/11).

Paul Millsap scored 12 points (6-6 FG) in overtime to help lift the Jazz to victory tonight. He became just the fourth player in the NBA this season to notch 12 or more points in a single OT period ( Boston’s Paul Pierce 12 in 1st OT on 11/3/10, Detroit’s Richard Hamilton 12 in 1st OT on 11/21/10 and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook 13 in 3rd OT on 12/1/10). Millsap finished with 27 points (11-20 FG, 5-5 FT) and 10 rebounds to lead three Jazz players with a double-double in this game.

Al Jefferson, who had 24 points (11-17 FG), 13 rebounds and three blocks tonight, scored 14 points (6-8 FG) in the third quarter alone.

Deron Williams totaled 14 points (5-16 FG) and 15 assists tonight. Williams, who was held to just 12 points (3-9 FG, 6-7 FT) and seven assists in the last meeting at Houston (4/7/10), now owns 11 regular season double-digit assist performances against the Rockets dating back to 2006-07.

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