Merry Freakin' Christmas!
On a night when the weather outside was truly frightful, the Utah Jazz turned back the clock about 6 or 7 years and showed the young Houston Rockets how to win tough games down the stretch.
When it really counted, the Jazz looked like the veterans they are and the Rockets looked like the inexperienced youngsters they are. Coughing up 21 turnovers that led to 30 Jazz points was the absolute killer.
The Rockets seemed to have this game in hand leading by as many as 7 in the 3rd quarter and, despite a Utah run to close the third within one, the Rockets ran off another run to start the fourth and looked ready to cruise to victory. Then, the thunder rolled in.
A wild line of thunderstorms blew into Houston about midway through the fourth quarter causing poor reception for some TV viewers and, ultimately, a brief power outage in Compaq.
At the time, the Jazz were on a run and the Rockets were down two about to go to the freethrow line. Using secondary lighting, the officials went ahead and allowed play to continue in a eerily lit arena that looked like a retro game you might see on ESPN Classic.
It was appropriate as the Jazz hit all the big shots down the stretch looking like the Jazz of the early 90's instead of the early 2000's.
Karl Malone led the Jazz with 31 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists hitting the last 3 buckets for Utah to seal the deal. John Stockton had only 8 points but also dealt 11 assists and grabbed 3 steals. Matt Harpring had 25 and Calbert Cheaney (Calbert CHEANEY???) had 15.
The story for the Rockets were the turnovers. They made them at bad times. They made them at good times. They made them...well, at ALL times. Steve Francis, who was a blistering 9-12 from the floor and 7-7 from the line (the Rockets, in fact were a perfect 17-17 from the charity stripe), scored 25 but had nearly as many turnovers (7) as assists (8).
In a mild defense of Francis (very mild), there were at least 3 or 4 of his turnovers that probably should have been credited to other guys but, because Stevie was dishing the rock, he got the blame. It was as if the team had collective butterfingers.
Yao Ming had 18 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists, 3 blocks and had some crucial buckets down the stretch, but he also collected 5 assists at times looking a little tired as he tended to swat at rebounds instead of grabbing them.
Cuttino Mobley had another horrid shooting outing going just 4-11 from the floor for 10 points while Eddie Griffin started the game red hot with 7 points in the first quarter but finished with only 13 on 6-10 shooting after Malone got him in foul trouble.
For the Rockets, it is a bitter loss at home to a team they probably should have beaten, but, in fairness to the Jazz, they have been on a roll lately beating Dallas in the Metroplex and absolutely crushing Memphis.
One bright spot for the Rockets was that James Posey managed to make it off the pine and see some solid minutes (16), hitting a few shots (3-4 for 6 points) and playing solid defense. It was obvious he was pretty lost in the offense but it was good to see him get his feet wet and even better to see a steal and a breakawy dunk from him in the first half. As he gets better, he will really help Houston improve.
The Rockets must suffer through a holiday with a nasty taste in their mouth after this loss, but they have no excuse not to do some damage over the next two weeks with home matchups against New York, New Orleans, Golden State, Minnesota and Denver and road games at Orlando and Atlanta.