All Gordon Hayward wanted for his 26th birthday was a crucial road win to boost his team’s playoff hopes and that’s exactly what G-Time got.
Gordon celebrated his birthday in style and was a catalyst to the one of Utah’s biggest wins this season. The Jazz (35-36) erased an 18-point first-half deficit to down the Houston Rockets (35-37) in remarkable fashion. The game was a crucial one for both teams and with the win, the Jazz hopped back into playoff position while at least temporarily knocking the Rockets out of the Top 8 in the West.
“I wanted a win, and we got one. We made the plays late, which was unbelievable for us as a group, especially with all the close games we’ve been in,” Gordon said. “For us to be down big time, double digits in the first half…and to come back, we’re resilient. We never usually play well in this building. We didn’t in the first half, but we stayed with it. We were strong. We made the plays down the stretch and we got the win.”
No. 20 finished with 22 points, six boards, five assists and four steals, the biggest coming with 42 seconds left when he swiped away a Patrick Beverly pass intended for James Harden with the score knotted at 85. After the steal, Gordon was fouled on the other end and calmly made his two attempts from the line to put the Jazz up by two before the Rockets tied it up again.
In dramatic fashion, the Jazz capped off the comeback on a Derrick Favors dunk with 1.6 seconds remaining to make it an 89-97 game. Houston had a chance to tie or take the win at the buzzer, but Harden misfired from beyond the arc thanks to a play to contest the shot late by Trevor Booker. That miss sealed the victory and the Jazz leapfrogged the Rockets for the eighth spot in the conference.
“We as a team, we just made the plays in the second half. We didn’t play very well in the first half, but guys stepped up when they needed to,” No. 20 said. “People hit big shots, big steals, rebounds. We got the stop there at the end, Book came and contested late, it was a huge win for us.”
As Gordon mentioned, the first half was a struggle for the Jazz before the lights turned on in the second. The game started off well as Hayward picked off a Trevor Ariza pass and knocked down an early three on the other end to give his squad a 5-0 lead.
Houston ended the quarter on a 9-4 run to jump ahead, but a Raul Neto trey brought the Jazz within three going into the second quarter. Things started to go south for the Jazz before the half and they were outscored 24-13 to close out the frame.
G-Time hit his first and only field goal of the second at the 2:51 mark on running layup to make it a 44-29 game. The poor quarter saw the Jazz down by as many as 18 and sent them into the locker room down 15. But in one of the most important games of the season, but there was no quit from Gordon and his teammates, and they came together to rally on the road.
A ferocious 11-1 run to start the third cut the Houston lead to five after. H20’s tough driving layup capped the run and made it 50-45 game with 8:09 left in the quarter. Gordon was fouled on the attempt and had a chance to make it a three-point play, but his freebie was off the mark.
Later in the quarter, G-Time made a nice play off the dribble, drawing contact on a successful layup. He drained his shot from the charity stripe to make it a 58-55 game with 2:22 to go in the third.
The Jazz continued to claw their way back into it in the fourth. H20’s second three-pointer of the contest cut Houston’s lead to three with 8:44 left in regulation. A couple minutes later, Shelvin Mack’s attempt from beyond the arc tied things up at 73, and it went back and fourth down the stretch.
“We talked about playing with force, competing a little bit, using energy, feeling like we were a little desperate,” Gordon said. “They’re a team that really mucks things up. They lead the league in steals and they kind of took us out of what we wanted to do there in the first half. In the second half, we were much stronger with the basketball, we got some good looks, we got some wide open shots, we knocked them down.”
Houston went on a quick 5-0 run after Utah tied it at 73, but Trevor Booker’s slam, followed up by Hayward’s two free throws, brought the Jazz back within one. A couple possessions later for Utah, G-Time got to the line again and coolly hit both his shots to give the Jazz their first lead since early in the first quarter.
After the Rockets went back up by three with about a minute remaining, Mack drilled another huge triple with 56.3 seconds left to tie the game at 85. Houston had a chance to go on top on its next possession, but the timely Hayward steal on Beverly’s pass tipped the scales in Utah’s favor.
Gordon attacked the Houston defense as he did all night, earning a trip to the free throw line. He was 10-of-12 from the stripe on the night, including to makes to give the Jazz an 87-85 advantage with 24.9 seconds to play.
Dwight Howard’s dunk on the next possession tied things up again, but Utah had an even louder answer. It looked as though Harden had Utah guard Rodney Hood trapped in the backcourt, but a timely screen by Gordon set him free. From there, he attacked, drawing in the Rocket defense. Hood then sent it down low to Favors, who finished with a flush to put Utah on top for good.
Harden did all he could to shake Hayward on the final play. The Houston guard literally ran circles around Howard, but Gordon got through the 6-foot-11, 265-pound center’s screen. Harden got a decent look, but H20 pressured the shot and it missed its mark.
Last night’s win puts Hayward and the Jazz (35-36) in the eighth and final playoff spot by a half game in the Western Conference after winning six of their last seven games. Utah will be back at it tonight when they square off against the Oklahoma City Thunder (49-22) on the road.
The second-leg of this back-to-back will be no easy feat for Gordon and his teammates as they have dropped each of the three games to the Thunder this season. Having played much-improved basketball of late, the Jazz will be primed to give OKC all it can handle as they continue to battle for a playoff spot.
Tonight’s game will tip off at 6 p.m. MST from Chesapeake Energy Arena and will be aired on ROOT.
WESTERN CONFERENCE STANDINGS – 3/24
- y – Golden State Warriors (64-7)
- y – San Antonio Spurs (60-11) 4 GB
- y – Oklahoma City Thunder (49-22) 15 GB
- Los Angeles Clippers (43-27) 20.5 GB
- Memphis Grizzlies (41-31) 23.5 GB
- Portland Trail Blazers (37-35) 27.5 GB
- Dallas Mavericks (35-36) 29 GB
- Utah Jazz (35-36) 29 GB
- Houston Rockets (35-37) 29.5 GB
y – Clinched division
- Game Book: Jazz at Rockets (NBA, Mar. 23, 2016)
- NBA Standings (ESPN, Mar. 23, 2016)
- Favors’ dunk lifts Jazz over Rockets (AP, Mar. 24, 2016)
- Utah Jazz rally for pivotal win over Rockets in Houston (Salt Lake Tribune, Mar. 23, 2016)
- Jazz come up huge with win in Houston to climb into No. 8 spot (Deseret News, Mar. 23, 2016)