Utah Jazz: Young lineup nearly pulls off comeback in Houston
By Bill Oram
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Mar 20 2013 10:33PM
Houston • Paul Millsap watched from the bench. Mo Williams sat, too.
Jazz head coach Tyrone Corbin promised before the Jazz’s 100-93 loss to the Houston Rockets that he would not hesitate to make bold rotation decisions if marquee players did not perform. He backed it up by leaving two of the team’s most highly paid players on the sidelines as the Jazz rallied to turn a 26-point third-quarter deficit into just a five-point hole with 1:29 remaining.
While the Jazz lost for the 10th time in their last 13 games and the playoffs continue to slip away, Wednesday may have represented a philosophical shift for a frustrated head coach.
"Whatever best five gives us the best chance to compete and win the ballgame," Corbin said, "that’s who’s going to be on the floor. We can’t accept anything less than that."
Corbin said he can no longer worry about hurting the feelings of players who end up on the bench.
"If you can’t get it going," he said, "we’ve got to move on."
A group anchored by Al Jefferson, but led by Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks in the backcourt, propelled the Jazz to a 32-point fourth quarter. Jefferson did not come out of the game in the second half, forming an impressive defensive tandem with Derrick Favors in the post that held the Rockets without a field goal for nearly seven minutes.
It was, essentially, for naught. The Jazz moved to three full games behind the Rockets in the Western Conference chase and enter Thursday 1½ games behind the Los Angeles Lakers for the eighth and last playoff seed.
The Jazz weren’t patting themselves on the back for not completely rolling over as they have on many other occasions.
"We’re past that," Mo Williams said. "It’s about wins now."
Hayward led the Jazz with 27 points, while Burks added 11 off the bench. The pair combined for the Jazz’s first 11 points in the fourth quarter.
Jefferson recorded his 31st double-double of the season, finishing with 18 points and 11 rebounds.
After Houston’s Carlos Delfino made a 3-pointer with 11:07 left in the fourth to put the Rockets up 83-63, the home team did not score a field goal until a Jeremy Lin basket with 4:07 remaining.
In that time, the Jazz went on a 16-4 run.
The Rockets shot just 4 of 18 from the field in the fourth quarter, but were 11 of 15 from the free throw line. However, a couple of fouls left the Jazz wondering if they might have been able to get even closer.
After Hayward made two free throws to pull the Jazz within five, Harden went hard at the rim on the other end. The first-year Rockets guard appeared to push Burks with his forearm, but Burks was called for the foul.
Corbin called it a "tough call" and Burks passed on commenting on the play by saying, "I don’t know, man, that ain’t my call."
Harden, who led all scorers with 29 points, scored 20 in the first half. He did not score a field goal in the final two quarter, but was 17 of 18 from the foul line and 8 of 9 in the fourth period.
Before the game, Corbin said he might consider being more active with his rotations if the Jazz got off to another slow start.
"We can’t afford to wait," he said. "We can’t afford to get down at this stage. It’s too important."
The Jazz fell behind by as many as 10 in the first quarter, and trailed 55-36 at halftime. Millsap finished with 15 points in 24 minutes, but Williams was held to just four points on 2-of-7 shooting.
Neither was in the late-game plans, apparently.
Asked if he would consider more changes to his starting lineup — three games earlier, he moved Hayward back into the first group — Corbin was noncommittal.
"We’ll look at it," he said. "We’ll think about it tonight and tomorrow. We’ll see. We’ve still go to try to keep ourselves together here to give ourselves a chance to get in the playoffs if there’s a possibility."