SALT LAKE CITY — Yes, the final box score will show that the Houston Rockets' uber-bearded star, James Harden, finished with 26 points in Tuesday night's game against Utah, just a shade under his 28.9 ppg average.
But look a little closer at that box score and you'll see that Harden had to put up 23 shots to get those 26 points, hitting only 8 of those shots, and his seven assists were far below his league-leading 12.2 average.
Holding Harden in check throughout the game was critical for the Jazz as they handled Houston 120-101 at Vivint Arena, extending Utah's winning streak to four straight and avenging an early season road loss to the Rockets.
"I thought we guarded him pretty well," said Utah forward Gordon Hayward, who popped in a game-high 31 points — bolstered by three 3-pointers and slick 12-of-13 shooting from the foul line — along with seven assists and five rebounds. Hayward scored 14 of his total in the fourth quarter.
"He still had his points and his numbers," Hayward said of Harden, "but we forced him into a lot of tough mid-range shots."
Indeed, it was a strong defensive effort collectively by the Jazz (11-8), who held Houston (11-7) to just 40.7 percent shooting (37 of 91) overall while Utah was shooting over 55 percent (41 of 74), including a superb 15 of 28 (53.6 percent) from 3-point range.
Harden had just 10 points at halftime on 3-of-10 shooting, then scored nine in the third quarter and seven more in the fourth, when he made only 1-of-5 shots and all five of his free throws to salvage his less-than-stellar, 26-point night.
Utah coach Quin Snyder gave his team some of the credit for not allowing the explosive Harden to go off, but said some Harden's subpar performance could probably be attributed to the Rockets' guard not having a great night for a team that had won seven of its first 11 road games this season.
"I think we were really disciplined on the ball," Snyder said. "But he's so good, sometimes it's not really what you do. Every now and then, a guy is not gonna have his best night.
"It doesn't happen very often, so you are fortunate when you are the team when the other team's guys are not great, just good. I think we worked at it, but we were fortunate also because there's not a whole lot you can do against him.
"I thought Rudy (Gobert) did a really good job obviously of protecting the rim," Snyder said of the Jazz center's ability to prevent Harden from his customary drive-and-dish game. "(Gobert) was tough back there, and that has a lot to do with it."
Gobert had a double-double of 16 points and 14 rebounds, and he also blocked three shots and bothered several others around the basket as Houston wound up playing primarily an outside jump-shooting game.
"Just trying to make him hit some tough shots," Gobert said of his defensive effort against Harden. "He is a very good player, very smart. He got some free throws, but I think we did a pretty good job."