SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – For the second straight night, the Utah Jazz defense was not up to its usual high standard.
James Harden shrugged off traps to score 38 points, while Russell Westbrook faced two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert and still had 34 and the Rockets beat the Utah Jazz 120-110 on Saturday night.
”I don’t know if it’s working,” Westbrook said about the Jazz defensive ploy. “I get whatever I want. I get to the basket. I shoot. I drive and kick. The pace and speed you can’t scout for.”
Harden (13 for 23, 6 3-pointers) and Westbrook (14 for 26) were efficient all night and the Rockets rode a big third quarter to their third straight win.
”It obviously didn’t work,” Harden said when asked about putting the 7-foot-1 Gobert on the 6-3 Westbrook.
Eric Gordon and Ben McLemore each scored 12 off the bench for Houston.
Donovan Mitchell scored 31 and Jordan Clarkson had 22 for the Jazz, who cut the Rockets’ lead to seven in the fourth quarter a couple times but could never get closer.
The Rockets made the Jazz pay when they occasionally double-teamed Harden and couldn’t rotate fast enough to the perimeter shooters. After a season high-tying 25 3-pointers in their last outing against Golden State, the Rockets made 20 of 48 from beyond the arc.
”We have two guys, even more than two guys, that are able to put pressure on the rim. Teams are going to come and help and then our shooters have open shots,” Harden said.
The Rockets made their move in the third quarter when they outscored the Jazz 38-19.
”When we don’t make shots, it really impacts our defense. That said, I thought in the third quarter, we didn’t have the same energy we needed on the defensive end. We didn’t get our hands on balls, we didn’t get deflections, and we fouled just once which tells you a little about our aggressiveness,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said.
Westbrook capped a 14-2 run with a jumper and Houston led 100-85 entering the final period.
”It’s cash money when they guard like that,” Westbrook said.
The Rockets made eight of their first nine 3-point attempts to take an early eight-point lead.
Taking advantage of Houston’s lack of rim protection, Clarkson scored 20 points in the first half to help the Jazz recover and move in front.
The Jazz played zone defense at times along with some non-traditional defensive matchups against the small-ball Rockets.
”Every game has been different so we just need to figure out how they are going to guard us and attack it. If they trap me, we are going to get open 3s. If they play us regular, we’ll run our offense and still get it,” Harden said.
If Harden and Westbrook are rolling, unique strategies don’t seem to matter.
”We got two of the best 1-on-1 players in the world. What are you going to do?” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said.
The Jazz lost to the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night and could hardly afford another slip-up on the second half of their back-to-back as they jockey with the Rockets for playoff position in the last third of the season.
Houston and Utah now both have records of 36-20 but the Rockets claimed the season series, 2-1.
The Jazz next host Phoenix Monday night.