Can we try that third quarter again?
Steve Francis scored 18 points in the first half to help the Rockets take a 3-point lead in to the break, but Karl Malone and the Jazz awoke in the third quarter, springboarding to a 20-point advantage and cruising to the 96-81 win in the Delta Center.
The Rockets (42-36) have lost 7 of their last 11 and the last 4 games of the season will be to decide if the Rockets will choose 12th or 13th in this summer's draft.
Francis finished with 26 points to lead the team, having hit 10 of 16 shots. He also added 7 assists.
Cuttino Mobley however couldn't hit the broad side of a jumbo barn. He missed his first 8 shots, going 2-11 in the end, and finished with 6 points and about 10 bitches to the refs for no-calls.
He wasn't far off on a few of them.... refs didn't have a great night, and for that matter they haven't had much of a good year either. The officials bit hard on a bunch of the Jazz' old tricks and called a bunch of mystery fouls to boot. Still can't figure out the one where Malone (26 points) went up for a shot and lost the ball and somehow Kenny Thomas was whistled for a foul.
KT bitched to the ref about it -- technical.
The Rockets knew the refs were awful... said Rudy T after the game, "I'm not going to lose any money over this, but everybody talks about what happens against Utah. It's going to happen and you just have to deal with it."
Super scrub Donyell Marshall added 19 points and 10 boards for Utah. John Stockton added 13 and 7 assists while Danny Manning, after what seems like 30 knee surgeries, is not only alive but is scoring 11 against the Rockets low post defense.
Did Dan Langhi get 20 minutes? Good gosh.... thought that was a misprint. Missed both of his free throws and 4 of the 6 shots he took, but not bad for the rook, and lets hope Rudy T plays him more in the final 4 games of the season.
Shandon Anderson scored just 2 points against his old team and you have to wonder if he's not preparing to leave now in the offseason, appearing a bit frustrated with his role.
The Rockets shot just 39.5% from the field to the Jazz' 46%.
Believe it or not the Rockets held the Jazz to just 12 points in their own building in the first quarter -- Steve Francis himself scored more than that with 14.
The rest of the Rockets? Just 4 points. Houston 18, Utah 12 after one.
Despite poor shooting from both teams, the Jazz came back. When Malone hit a pair of free throws, the game was tied at 22.
When Francis picked a Stockton pass and pulled up for a jumper on the break, the Rockets led 27-24 with 4:18 to go in the first half. But Stockton countered with a baseline triple and we were all knotted up.
The Jazz took the lead, but a Kenny Thomas bucket in the paint and foul tied the game at 32. When Bullard nailed a baseline three, his second of the period, the Rockets led 35-34 and Moochie added a pair of free throws to up the lead to 3.
What was angering was the incredibly obvious flop by Stockton just before the half was out. Stockton bricked a shot and the rebound outlet went to Moochie who headed the other way. Stockton planted his feet and moved to the right with Moochie, pushing up his hands like a football tackle then throwing himself with dramatics to the floor.
As they've been doing now for some 17 years, the refs bit. Utah ball and Stockton immediately took advantage with a jumper.
But Hakeem hit a baseline jumper before the half and Stockton missed a jumper as time expired, and the Rockets took a 41-38 lead in to the locker room at intermission.
Francis was insane, hitting 7-9 shots in the first half for 18 points. Dream added 8 and Kenny Thomas had 5 with 7 boards. Cuttino Mobley (0-7) and Shandon Anderson (0-4) however couldn't find the basket. Malone had 10 to lead the Jazz while Stockton and Donyell Marshall each chipped in 6.
Things totally went south to start the third. Behind Malone, the Jazz scored 7 consecutive points and after a Shandon jumper, they added 4 more to take a 49-43 lead.
Francis found Mobley for a basket and foul (Mobley's first hoop after 8 misses) and that cut the Jazz lead to 3, but Malone, Marshall and Stockton kept it going. After Stockton found Malone underneath on a break and a technical was called on Francis, the Jazz led 61-50.
That was just the beginning. Two more free throws by Marshall upped the lead to 13 and the Rockets seemed to give up from there. Even Langhi came in. The Jazz went to the line an astounding 13 times in the period, making 12, and after three it was Utah 74, Houston 57.
Karl Malone scored 14 of his 24 in the third. Francis led the Rockets with 24.
The Jazz beefed the lead up to 20 before a three by Bullard, alleyoop from Cato and a long jumper from Langhi brought the Rockets within 14 and got the Jazz starters back in off the bench.
From there, the Rockets put up little fight as the final score was nothing more than a formality.