The Utah Jazz do not have to wait long for a shot at avenging their first loss of the season.
In a rematch of Monday’s game at Houston, a 114-108 win for the Rockets, the Jazz will host the second leg of a home-and-home Wednesday night in Salt Lake City.
Utah at least will have a day of rest coming into the rematch. They played the previous game on the second night of a road back-to-back that began Sunday in New Orleans.
“I thought there was some fatigue,” Jazz coach Will Hardy said after his new team’s first loss in four outings. “We played flat in the first half and responded in the second half. I think a day off (Tuesday) will be very beneficial for us. … We are learning a lot about our team as they go.”
Sunday’s victory was the first of the 2022-23 campaign for Houston, which eked out a win after seeing a 10-point lead vanish. The Rockets took advantage of the weary Jazz down the stretch thanks to a go-ahead Eric Gordon layup with 1:23 left followed by four clutch free throws in the final 24.5 seconds by rookie Jabari Smith Jr.
Kevin Porter Jr. led Houston with 26 points and 10 rebounds, Jalen Green scored 25 and Smith, the third overall pick of the 2022 NBA Draft, had an all-around solid performance with 21 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots.
“We needed one (win), obviously,” Rockets coach Stephen Silas said. “And the way we did it where we were fighting, and we had some adversity and we fought back. They tied the game a couple of times, but we didn’t break.”
Jordan Clarkson led seven Utah players in double figures with 17 points. Lauri Markkanen missed all six 3-point attempts en route to 14 points, while Jarred Vanderbilt (11 rebounds), Kelly Olynyk (nine rebounds) and Simone Fontecchio each scored 13.
The Jazz got off to a slow start, only scoring 18 points in the first quarter and 45 by halftime, before making a strong push in the second half. That came a night after Utah held on for an overtime win over the Pelicans in New Orleans.
“We knew they were coming off a back-to-back, so our whole game plan was to make them run,” Porter said. “We needed high energy, we needed momentum, and that’s what we did.”
The loss came after Utah impressively opened the season with three surprising wins.
“It was apparent pretty early we were not the same physical, aggressive, flying-around team that we have been,” Hardy said. “We’ve got to find ways to do that earlier. When you play the entire first half a little bit flat, you leave yourself in a situation where some things can not go your way.”
Green said a tense exchange he had with Smith in the waning moments of Monday’s game was much ado about nothing.
“It was nothing. Nothing at all, just the heat of the moment,” Green said. “All that matters is that we went out and won the game.”