Important victory

The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets defeat Jazz in Utah 120-110

It's impossible to overstate the importance of this game for the Rockets. Already playing the Jazz twice this season and coming out with one victory, this game was for all the marbles - in other words, the tiebreaker. Also, if Houston won, they'd be cashing in that tiebreaker right away and leapfrogging Utah for the fourth seed in the Western Conference (for now). Fortunately for Houston, things broke their way in the second half of this game, and currently stand two games out of the second seed.

For the second straight game, the Rockets were completely hot from three-point range, making 20 of their 48 attempts as a team tonight (42%). However, to start the game, Houston was not able to mount a huge lead due to their porous point-of-attack defense. The Jazz were just blowing by Houston's first line of defense seemingly every possession, creating a layup line because Houston no longer has a second line of defense.

After scoring 30 points against the Rockets in early February, Jordan Clarkson had 20 points on 9 of 13 shooting in the first half. The Rockets were giving up point-blank drives to the rim and the Jazz were taking advantage of it.

The third quarter is where Houston really started to turn things around defensively, only allowing 19 points on 6 of 19 shooting from the field (31.6%). They continued to make their shots, Harden and Westbrook controlled the tempo of the game (combined 72 points on 27 of 49 shooting from the field), and took home the win. Houston only really struggled with their fourth quarter offense, but were good enough defensively to where it didn't matter.

Star of the game: James Harden's looked really good on both ends since returning from the All-Star break. He's been sharp on the defensive end, he's making shots, and he's getting to the free throw line with regularity. Tonight, Harden tallied 38 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 block on 68.0% true shooting. Harden also ended the game a team-high +24 after being a team-high +32 on Thursday. He's coming back alive just when the Rockets needed him.

Honorable mention: The Jazz again had Rudy Gobert guard Russell Westbrook, but this time, they stayed with it for the full duration of the game. Westbrook responded by putting up 34 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1 steal on 14 of 26 shooting from the field. Westbrook also made 2 out of the 4 three-pointers he attempted tonight.

Key moment: If you wanted to show people what the idealized version of this season's Houston Rockets would look like, it would be the third quarter of this game. After a first half of weak point-of-attack defense, the Rockets defended about as well they ever had in the micro-ball era (19 points allowed). They also moved the ball and shot well from beyond the arc (6 of 14 - 42.9%). They looked like a tier one title contender that should put fear in the hearts of Western Conference opponents.

Up next: The Rockets return to Houston on Monday at 7:00 p.m. to take on the New York Knicks.

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