SALT LAKE CITY — When the Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets faced each other for the first time this season back on Nov. 5 in Houston, the Rockets held an 18-point lead at halftime and cruised to a 27-point victory.
On Thursday night at Vivint Arena, it appeared the result could be different.
To start, the Jazz and Rockets have been together at the top of the NBA in both offensive and defensive rating over the past few weeks. Second, Utah trailed by just five at intermission.
Less than four minutes into the third quarter, however, the Jazz found themselves down by that same 18-point margin and wound up falling, 112-101.
The Rockets’ win marked their eighth consecutive and 14th in their last 15 games, while Utah dropped its second straight game to move their record back to the .500 mark at 13-13 as they get set for a six-game road trip.
Despite falling down 6-0 early, the Jazz managed to take a 16-15 lead with just over four minutes remaining in the first quarter. Houston responded by opening up a nine-point advantage with less than a minute to go in the second quarter before Utah closed the gap heading into intermission.
Then the third quarter happened.
The Rockets scored 10 of the first 11 points in the frame to build a 61-47 edge and didn’t look back from there. With 4:08 remaining in the quarter, Houston was leading by 25, 83-58. While the Rockets didn’t quite have the 48-point third quarter as they did Nov. 5, they still finished with 37, compared to 20 for the Jazz, to take a 22-point lead into the fourth quarter.
"I think we did a good job for three quarters, but the third quarter was too much," Utah center Rudy Gobert said.
All-Star James Harden scored 12 points in the quarter, and while he didn’t come close Thursday to the career-high 56 he put up in that first contest last month, he still finished with 29. He also had five rebounds, three assists and a steal.
Ryan Anderson added 23 points, six rebounds, two assists and a steal for the Rockets, who were thin up front to begin with and ran into foul trouble with their bigs in the first half but countered that by going 18 of 42 from behind the 3-point line and Utah couldn’t capitalize, as Gobert and Derrick Favors combined for just 11 points on the night.
"When they have four shooters on the floor, if you're going to come off somebody, you're going to leave somebody open for a 3," Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said. "We didn't do a good job of even containing the ball."
Chris Paul, who didn’t play in the November game because of injury, finished just one rebound short of a triple-double, scoring 18 points with 13 assists and nine boards.
The Jazz managed to cut the deficit in the fourth quarter but never mounted a serious rally.
Thursday marked the second straight game the Jazz have struggled from distance, as they finished just 11 of 30 after shooting well from deep the previous six contests, all victories.
"Houston, their offense gets so much focus and it should, but they're a very, very good defensive team," Snyder said. "They've got excellent individual defenders, they play well together as a group in whatever schemes they're in, they're able to make adjustments on the fly because they've got players that are experienced."
Houston also dominated the boards, finishing with 46 compared to 32 for Utah. The Rockets had 22 assists compared to 17 for the Jazz. Only Thabo Sefolosha and Raul Neto finished on the good side of the plus-minus statistic for Utah.
Donovan Mitchell, who said before the game that he was under the weather, wound up leading the Jazz once again in scoring with 26 points, but struggled early before finishing with a strong second half. He also had four rebounds, four assists and a steal.
The Jazz will next play Saturday night on the road against the Milwaukee Bucks.