HOUSTON — The Utah Jazz lost for the first time this season, falling 114-108 to the Houston Rockets in the second game of a back-to-back set on Monday night.

After winning three consecutive, improbable games, and showing a competitive spirit that has energized the team and the fanbase, the Jazz lost in the first game that they were actually favored to win.

While the Jazz had a tough time scoring — Jordan Clarkson finished with a team high 17 points — Jabari Smith Jr., Kevin Porter Jr. and Jalen Green combined for 72 points as the Rockets earned their first victory of the season.

The Simone Fontecchio spark

The game was sloppy, the Jazz were tired and there was a lot of ugly basketball played, but there was a lone bright spot.

Jazz head coach Will Hardy was trying to manage the minutes of his more veteran players and was also looking for some kind of spark at the end of the third quarter and he turned to 26-year-old rookie Simone Fontecchio.

Although Fontecchio played in 55 seconds in the Jazz’s season opener — the final garbage moments of the game — and nine seconds in the Jazz’s overtime win against the New Orleans Pelicans, his first meaningful and significant minutes came against the Rockets.

The reason that Hardy put Fontecchio in for a single possession against the Pelicans was to load up the floor with reliable shooters, a trait that was spelled out pretty clearly once Fontecchio was able to actually get some real minutes on Monday.

In his 15 minute stint he went 3-of-5 from deep and added a couple other scoring drives for 13 points and grabbed four rebounds.

“Simone was great,” Hardy said. “He gave us a lift. He can really shoot the ball … and knows how to play. He played well against a close-out, made a couple of great decisions on drive-and-kicks. I was really happy for him.”

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This is what this season is all about. There are going to be opportunities for players to improve and grow and show that they deserve a spot in an NBA rotation. It’s the job of the coaching staff to allow for those opportunities and the job of the player to make the most of them.

Of course Fontecchio was disappointed that the Jazz lost, but he was measured about his first real NBA run.

“I’m just trying to stay focused,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of things to work on. Today I played 15 minutes and got four fouls. So that’s one thing for sure that I’ve got to get better at and use to. But I’m really happy that I could help the team today.”

Utah Jazz head coach Will Hardey, right, talks with referee Eric Lewis (42) after a foul call during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Monday, Oct. 24, 2022, in Houston | Michael Wyke, Associated Press

Back-to-back fatigue

The Jazz aren’t going to want to say that they were tired or that they didn’t have fresh legs on Monday night. They aren’t going to want to give themselves an easy out, but it was clear from the start of this one that they were lacking in the energy department.

What do you expect on the first back-to-back of the year when the last two games also went into overtime? The Jazz were going to have a tough time duplicating what they did in the last three games, no matter who the opponent was. But it certainly doesn’t help that the opponent was an incredibly young team that was desperate for a win. The Rockets roster has 10 players that are 22 or younger and they had started 0-3 on the season.

“On the first back-to-back of the season there’s always a little bit of fatigue,” Hardy said. “We’re never going to use that as an excuse for how we performed, but I think having an off day tomorrow will be very helpful for the group.”

Houston Rockets guard Kevin Porter Jr. jumps to pass the ball as Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley (11) defends while forward Lauri Markkanen (23) and forward Tari Eason (17) look on during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Oct. 24, 2022, in Houston. | Michael Wyke, Associated Press

Rockets game plan

The Jazz knew that they were facing a Rockets team that is super young and super fast and likes to run and space. They knew that they were going to be switchy and quick. They knew, and fell into the trap quite a few times.

“We knew they were coming off a back-to-back, so our whole game plan was run them off the line, make them run, make them play in transition,” Porter Jr. said after the game. “We needed high energy and we needed momentum, and that’s what we did.”

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Yeah. Thank you, Kevin Porter Jr. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

The Rockets forced the Jazz to turn the ball over 20 times, turning those turnovers into 17 points. The Rockets created 19 second-chance points for themselves, and even when things were chaotic and messy they kept forcing the Jazz to run and run hard.

Up Next

The Jazz will get a chance at revenge on Wednesday night when the Rockets visit Vivint Arena. That will give the Jazz a chance to rest and retaliate with whatever they see as necessary adjustments against a Houston team that will be hungry to double-down on what they did in front of their home crowd.

After that, it’s a familiar foe once again as the Jazz head to Denver on Friday for a game against the team that they absolutely walloped on opening night.

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