Houston • The tidal wave took less than six minutes.
It began with an Eric Gordon 3-pointer from 31 feet. Then he hit another. And then another. By the time it was over, the Rockets turned an eight point fourth-quarter deficit into a 120-99 win over the Utah Jazz on Monday night at the Toyota Center.
The run was as devastating for the Jazz as it was fun to watch for Houston. The Rockets outscored Utah 41-15 in the final 12 minutes, much of the damage done after Jazz forward Thabo Sefolosha hit a running bank shot to give Utah a 91-83 advantage.
It showed Houston’s ability to snowball an opponent. One minute, the Jazz had hopes of beating one of the very best teams in the league. Before they could blink, they were on the wrong end of a 28-5 run and the crowd was at a fever pitch.
“Against a team like that, you can’t make little mistakes,” Jazz rookie guard Donovan Mitchell said. “We made two or three tonight. And that’s when they got hot, and then they were just off to the races.”
The final score overshadows how competitive Monday night was until the last nine minutes. A short-handed Jazz team did everything it needed to do to come out of Houston with a win.
The Jazz defended James Harden well. They ran a crisp offense. They made shots, and Rodney Hood’s hot hand produced a team-high 26 points.
But the Rockets made 17 3-pointers, with Gordon making seven of them. They took 43 shots from beyond the arc, and they got to the free-throw line 27 times, making 23 of them. The disparity from 3-point range, plus the free-throw disparity — Utah went to the line just eight times — was too much for the Jazz to overcome, as was Gordon’s 33 points.
“Eric’s been playing well, he just hadn’t found his shots,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “So, I guess he found it. We just had so many guys that contributed in different areas. It was just a good overall effort from a lot of guys.”
Houston’s in a zone only special teams reach. With Monday night’s win, the Rockets are 25-4 on the season. They’ve won 14 consecutive games and look like a team capable of challenging the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference.
That’s why Utah’s locker room in the moments following the final buzzer was as quiet as its been through its stretch of six road games. The Jazz knew they played well for three quarters, even under difficult conditions. They also know their mistakes led to the Rockets finding their 3-point shooting, and that their fourth quarter was a collapse.
“We competed, and that was the main thing,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “But we got cross-matched in transition a couple of times. Gordon hit a couple of threes and once a guy gets going, he’s a great player. They are too good a team to let get going and they showed why they are so good. But I thought our guys showed tremendous character.”
Playing without Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors, the Jazz received 17 points from Joe Ingles, 14 points from Ricky Rubio and 12 points from Joe Johnson, all coming in the first half.
But Mitchell had his least impactful game of the trip, scoring just six points on 3-of-7 shooting, the Rockets hounding him with Trevor Ariza and PJ Tucker, who are great perimeter defenders. Mitchell played just 21 minutes, as Snyder took him out for good early in the fourth quarter.
The Jazz fall to 14-17 and are 1-4 on their current stretch of road games. They’ve lost six of their last seven games. Those numbers are ugly. But truth be told, the Jazz aren’t playing bad basketball. They are simply in the middle of the most difficult month any team in the NBA is going to face this season.
And it continues on Wednesday night in Oklahoma City against the Thunder.
“Houston got hot and when they play like that they can make a run,” Jazz guard Ricky Rubio said. “When they are running and making shots from everywhere, it’s hard to get help from anyone. I think we did a pretty good job for three quarters. In the last quarter, they just made shots.”