James Harden ran into what felt like a brick wall and rolled his ankle before crumpling to the floor.
He didn’t let that stop him.
After getting fouled hard by Enes Kanter on a fast break in the third quarter and twisting his ankle, Harden shook it off –the same way his Houston Rockets shook off a 19-point deficit and rolled to 104-93 victory over Utah on Saturday night that kept the Jazz winless and the Rockets undefeated.
”I had to block out the pain. We had momentum, especially there in the third quarter. We came out with our defensive intensity at such a high level that I didn’t want to let anything slow me down,” said Harden, who had 16 of his 23 points in the second half.
Despite his swollen ankle, Harden saved his best for last.
”It was time for me to step up and take over the game. It’s that simple,” he said.
Chandler Parsons scored 24 points, Jeremy Lin added 20 and the Rockets (3-0) outscored the Jazz 64-37 in the second half.
After John Lucas made a jumper to beat the shot clock and pull the Jazz within 95-90 with 3:27 left, the Rockets allowed just one field goal the rest of the way and Harden ran the pick-and-roll repeatedly down the stretch.
”We got stops and rebounds so we could get out and run,” Lin said. ”And then a couple guys got hot, and that just becomes contagious.”
Kanter made an inside jumper to give Utah its final lead, 85-83 with 7:11 remaining. Harden drove for a layup, Lin hit a 3-pointer and Parsons followed with another basket to start the game-ending run.
Richard Jefferson led Utah with 18 points and Kanter added 16 for the Jazz, who looked disjointed once the Rockets increased their defensive pressure in the second half.
”They came out in the third and played with a lot more energy than we had. They made shots and executed their offense and those guys really took it to us,” Utah coach Tyrone Corbin said.
The loss marked the first time the Jazz have started a season with three consecutive defeats since they began 0-4 in the 1979-80 season, the year the franchise moved to Utah.
Harden made two free throws to cap a 15-2 run in the third quarter that knotted the game at 60-60. Dwight Howard had 10 and Harden had nine in the quarter in helping Houston outscore Utah 33-17.
”We put ourselves to the test. Being down 16 at halftime, we might have just caved in and gave up last year but this year we fought back. That’s the difference,” Harden said.
Parsons, who also grabbed 12 rebounds, kept the Rockets in the game with 20 points in the first half, when the Jazz outrebounded Houston 27-12 and dominated the paint.
”I was struggling the first two games, especially with my shot,” Parsons said. ”And then in this one, the other guys were struggling and I finally had it going. My teammates believed in me and I was shooting with confidence.”
The Jazz led 56-37 just before the half, following a stretch that featured a dunk by Gordon Hayward and a layup by Derrick Favors that brought the crowd to its feet.
”In the first half, we were just letting them score, letting them make their cuts, and doing whatever they wanted. They were outhustling us,” Harden said.
Howard finished with 15 points playing against Utah’s young frontcourt of Kanter and Favors most of the game.
But Utah had no answer for the Rockets’ defensive pressure and Harden’s playmaking in the second half.
”We have the potential to be a very good defensive team. With those two big guys (Howard, Omer Asik) behind us, it makes us want to be more aggressive and we were out in passing lanes, disrupting their offense and making them uncomfortable,” Parsons said.
The Jazz began missing shots and Houston was able to unleash its fast break and went 23 for 36 in final two quarters. Once Harden started breaking down Utah’s defense, the Rockets began finding open shots all over the court.
”In the second half, it was vice versa. We got every loose ball, rebounded the ball and got out in transition. We played our basketball,” Harden said.
NOTES: Harden was limping slightly after the game but said he was fine and didn’t get immediate treatment. … Lin played with a big bandage on his chin after he received stitches in Friday’s game against Dallas. … The Rockets outrebounded Utah in the second half 28-12. … Utah shot 4 of 22 from beyond the arc.