No James Harden, no Russell Westbrook, no problem for the Rockets in Utah on Monday as Houston escaped Salt Lake City with a 126-117 victory.
Eric Gordon led the way for the Rockets with a career-high 50 points, and a cast of unlikely contributors kept Houston from losing seven of its last ten games. The Rockets are still slated to go on the road in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs, but better days should be ahead before the All-Star break. Houston has just one game left on its four-game road trip, and both Harden and Westbrook will return to the lineup in Portland on Wednesday. Monday's win could be remembered as a critical victory when the calendar turns to April. The Rockets have Gordon to thank.
Here are three takeaways from Monday's victory as the Rockets advanced to 29–17 in 2019-20.
Gordon Comes Up Clutch
Eric Gordon could have a larger offensive role in another city. He acknowledged as much last week, noting his "sacrifice" as the Rockets' third scorer behind Westbrook and Harden. The Indiana product got his chance to run the show in Utah, and he certainly delivered in the Rockets' resounding win.
Gordon looked every bit like a true leading man on Monday. He poured in 50 points on 22 shots, banging home six threes and 14 free throws. Gordon punished Utah from the right wing. He blew past Rudy Gobert and the Jazz bigs on switches. Gordon entered the league as a rookie with serious scoring chops. He remains a similar player a decade later, turning in a career night in Houston's win on Monday.
"It really feels great, man. All the stuff I've been through over the years," Gordon told NBA TV postgame. "All the injuries. For me to get a chance to get 50 [points], it definitely means a lot. And I'm headed in the right direction."
Supporting Cast Steps Up
It wasn't just Gordon who delivered for the short-handed Rockets on Monday. Austin Rivers and Danuel House both dropped 21 points, with each player making a major contribution in the victory. Rivers filled in for Westbrook with aplomb at point guard, directing the Rockets' offense as they sprung Gordon free for a slate of open looks. Rivers struggled from three on Monday, but he was aggressive and efficient attacking the hole. He also victimized Gobert in space, bringing back memories of the 2018 and 2019 playoffs. Monday marked Rivers' best night of the season.
The Rockets' most enjoyable contribution came from a player who scored just nine points. Thabo Sefolosha went 4-7 from the field on Monday, finishing with a plus-10 in 26 minutes. And Sefolosha certainly turned back the clock in Utah. He spun around Jazz forward Joe Ingles on a pair of possessions in the second quarter, with each move springing the Rockets' bench to its feat. Sefolosha delivered a major boost of energy when Houston needed it most in Salt Lake City.
Jazz Sloppy as Streak Snapped
The Jazz are serious contenders for the Western Conference crown, and they entered Monday night with 14 wins in their last 15 games. But Utah played like a sub-.500 team for much of its loss to the Rockets. Quin Snyder's crew missed seven free throws and 30 threes on Monday, and they committed 17 turnovers. The Rockets decimated Utah in transition, and they entered the penalty early in the fourth quarter. The Jazz were downright sloppy on Monday. The Rockets were a major beneficiary as they avoided a two-game losing streak.
Up Next: at Portland on Wednesday
The Rockets will finish their grueling four-game road trip on Wednesday as they continue to head west for a matchup against Carmelo Anthony and the Blazers. Anthony torched the Rockets with 18 points on 7-10 shooting on Jan. 16, and Portland point guard Damian Lillard has been especially hot of late. Lillard has 158 points in his last three games, including a 61-point effort against the Warriors on Jan 20.
Tip-off from the Moda Center is slated for 9 p.m. CT.