Utah Jazz: Rockets trounce Jazz 124-86
By aaron falk
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Mar 17 2014 06:14PM
Houston • Rockets rookie Isaiah Canaan was dribbling out the final possession of a blowout Monday, the seconds on the clock ticking down to the end of another embarrassing loss for the Utah Jazz, when John Lucas III had had enough.
The game had been decided long before Lucas checked in late in the third quarter, but Houston had kept firing, pushing its lead to as much as 41 late in the fourth. So with Canaan’s back turned, Lucas poked the ball away and dribbled it over the half-court line and toward the Jazz bench.
"I play to the end," Lucas said. "We’re already getting beat real bad and they still want to be showing off and doing stuff like that, so I stole the ball."
As time expired, bringing a merciful end to a 124-86 Houston win, Rockets swingman Francisco Garcia elbowed Lucas and the Jazz guard, upset by what he called a "cheap shot," shoved Garcia back and then squared up with fists. No punches were thrown.
For Lucas, who has all but fallen out of the rotation for the 22-46 Jazz, it was part of a release of a season’s worth of frustrations.
"I hate losing. I hate it with a passion," he said. "I just feel like built-up frustration — maybe for the whole year — it just triggered something and it triggered me to do what I had to do."
After the game, Jazz coach Ty Corbin said he wished Lucas had not stolen the ball, before adding, "But, you know what, the clock was still running. You’ve got a right to play."
Troubling from a basketball perspective was this: Lucas’ steal represented one of the few moments of defense on the night for a free-falling Jazz team that has now lost 10 of its last 11 games.
The story of the Jazz’s defensive shortcomings was on display early and written in the first-half box score. Over the first two quarters at the Toyota Center, the Rockets took 12 shots from the free-throw line and 12 shots from beyond the arc. From 3-point, Houston hit on seven of those attempts.
From the free-throw line, without a defender to put a hand in their faces, the Rockets hit the same.
"We were awful," rookie point guard Trey Burke said.
A night after Utah let the San Antonio Spurs shoot a season-best 63 percent, the Rockets hit on 58.2 percent of their attempts, including 13 of 25 from 3-point territory.
Even with All-Star center Dwight Howard sitting out the game with a mild ankle strain, the Jazz were overmatched. Terrence Jones scored 13 of his 30 points in the third quarter. Point guard Patrick Beverley had 19 points and seven rebounds. Jeremy Lin scored 17 points and dished nine assists.
Utah’s rotations were slow.
Man-to-man defense offered little resistance.
"We gave up everything," Corbin said. "We gave up points in the paint, transition baskets, 3-pointers. We didn’t do a good job of taking any one thing away from them tonight."
Jazz forward Derrick Favors and guard Alec Burks each scored 15 points in the loss, but offense was not what the 6-foot-10 Favors had on his mind after the game.
"We’re going to have to come together as a team and we have to go out there and get stops," he said. "Don’t worry about offense, none of that. We just have to go out there and get stops because that was embarrassing."
With a game against a Memphis team fighting for playoff position next on the schedule, Corbin said he wants Monday’s defeat to be a lesson in preparation.
"We acted like we were a little tired," Corbin said. "We’ve talked about guys learning their way through this time of year, back-to-back games. And they showed their experience and we showed our inexperience. This is a lesson for the young guys. You have to learn how to get yourself ready every night at different stages of the year. Tonight we just couldn’t get it going. It was like we were running in mud. We couldn’t get ourselves out of it."
In the locker room after, Lucas said he had cooled down and called his decision to steal the ball "messed up."
"There’s some stuff you do and you don’t do and maybe that was one of those things you don’t do," he said.
But the emotion shown was something, he said, the Jazz could use as they fight their way through the final 14 games of the season.
"Maybe not channeled that way," he said. "But when you step on the court, you have to play with some kind of passion. Night in and night out, you have to play with passion."