HOUSTON (AP) — The Utah Jazz didn’t take much time to celebrate overtaking the Houston Rockets for the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference playoff standings.
They know there’s still a lot of work to do.
“It feels good to know we’re still in it,” Derrick Favors said. “But we’re not in there yet so we’ve got to continue to work hard, play hard and keep winning games.”
Favors’ dunk with 1.6 seconds left lifted the Jazz to an 89-87 victory over the Rockets on Wednesday night and a half-game lead in the standings.
“I think this whole process right now is good,” coach Quin Snyder said. “Just being in an environment like this one on the road or being in a hunt competitively puts your team in a situation that’s new for us … and I think it’s a good opportunity for us to get better.”
Gordon Hayward had 22 points on his birthday to lead Utah.
The Jazz trailed by as many as 18 in the second half before rallying for their first lead of the game with about 4 minutes left. The teams exchanged leads several times after that before Dwight Howard tied it on a dunk with 22.3 seconds remaining.
Rodney Hood then found Favors, who finished with 17 points, under the basket and he finished with the slam to put Utah on top. Houston had a chance to win it after that, but James Harden‘s 3-point attempt bounced off the rim.
“I think we played with a little desperation there in the second half,” Hayward said. “We talked about them letting us get back into it and we stepped up and hit some shots.”
Harden had 26 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds and a career-high eight steals, but the Rockets dropped their third straight.
“The season’s not over,” coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “We’re in a position where, we take care of business we can still get into the playoffs. But we’ve got to take care of business. There’s no more excuses.”
Harden made a pair of free throws to give Houston the lead with less than 2 minutes to play. The Rockets forced a shot clock violation on the other end and Patrick Beverley made a floating jump shot just before Houston’s shot clock reached zero to make it 85-82.
Shelvin Mack tied it back up with a 3-pointer and Hayward grabbed a steal and made two free throws to put Utah up 87-85 with 24 seconds left.
Houston opened a 71-62 lead early in the fourth. It was all Jazz for the next couple of minutes as they scored the next eight points, powered by 3s from Hayward and Mack, to get within one.
The Jazz finally went ahead for the first time by scoring six straight points, capped by four free throws by Hayward, to make it 79-78.
Donatas Motiejunas opened the second half with a free throw for Houston to push the lead to 50-34. The Jazz scored the next 11 points, with five points from Mack, to get within 50-45 with eight minutes left in the third.
Houston scored six straight points after that to push the lead to 56-45.
Howard had a season-high six blocks, including one on a layup by Rudy Gobert where he sent the ball into the stands in the first quarter.
Houston led 49-34 at halftime.
Jazz: Mack finished with 16 points. … Favors had 15 rebounds.
Rockets: The 34 points Utah scored in the first half were the fewest Houston had allowed in a first half this season. … Harden is the first Rocket to have at least 20 points, seven assists, seven rebounds and seven steals since Clyde Drexler did it on Nov. 1, 1996.
BREAKING THE SKID
The Jazz won in Houston for the first time since April 11, 2012, snapping a six-game skid. Hayward knew it had been a long time but Favors didn’t realize they’d had such a tough time in Houston.
“I didn’t even know that. Wow,” he said. “It feels good. It was a big win for us.”