HOUSTON (AP) — Running out of games and healthy bodies, the Utah Jazz turned to their budding star to keep their fading playoff hopes alive in Houston.
Gordon Hayward scored a season-high 29 points to lead the Jazz to a 103-91 win over the Rockets on Wednesday night.
Utah came into the game holding the No. 10 spot in the Western Conference, but only 1 1/2 games behind Denver for the eighth and final playoff berth. The Jazz had five players sidelined with injuries, so the starters knew they would log heavy minutes in such a pivotal game.
That didn’t faze Hayward, who went 9-for-14 from the field and sank four 3-pointers and delivered six assists in 39 minutes.
“The mentality now is that we’ve just got to find ways to win,” Hayward said. “We’re down to 10 players now, or something like that. We’re just out there fighting, competing and trying to find ways to win.”
Paul Millsap added 21 points and Al Jefferson had 15 for the Jazz, who shot 51 percent (40 of 78) and led by as many as 18, taking advantage of Houston’s poor shooting.
“Considering the circumstances,” Hayward said, “this is a pretty big win for us.”
And just as big a loss for Houston, which started the night in the sixth spot in the West. The Rockets had a four-game winning streak snapped, and slipped behind Dallas in the standings.
“We weren’t sharp, we had some turnovers,” Houston coach Kevin McHale said. “We had opportunities, but could not seem to make that big shot, or that big play that would kind of get us over the hump.”
Goran Dragic scored 19, Kyle Lowry added 15 off the bench and Marcus Camby grabbed 13 rebounds for the Rockets, who shot 36 percent (31 of 87) from the field.
Lowry drew a loud ovation when he replaced Dragic in the final minute of the first quarter. Lowry was playing in his third game – and first at home – since recovering from a bacterial infection that sidelined him for 15 games.
The Rockets led early, but Hayward sank a 3-pointer and Millsap hit three mid-range shots during a 13-1 Utah spurt bridging the first and second quarters. The Rockets missed six straight shots during the spurt, and trailed 38-26.
“We kept getting stops,” Jefferson said. “We got the stops when we needed them.”
Houston answered with a quick 10-0 burst, finished by Chase Budinger’s 3-pointer. But the Jazz made 22 of 38 shots in the first half (58 percent) and led 56-46 at the break. Hayward had 17 points and Millsap had 16 in the opening half.
Early in the third quarter, a Jazz turnover led to a fast-break dunk by Courtney Lee to make it 64-56. Lee missed a 3-pointer on Houston’s next trip, and Jefferson broke free for a two-handed dunk to quiet the crowd again.
Jefferson and Millsap scored again from close range and Hayward sank his fourth 3-pointer as Utah stretched the lead to 76-60. The Rockets, meanwhile, went cold in the third quarter, missing 15 of 19 shots.
McHale had Lowry and Dragic on the floor together late in the third and early in the fourth quarter. Lowry drove for two layups, and assisted on baskets by Luis Scola and Patrick Patterson to start a Houston rally.
Lowry threw a long pass to Dragic for a breakaway dunk with 6:56 left and the Rockets trailed only 85-80. Jefferson scored, but Lowry answered with his first 3-pointer of the night to cut the deficit to four.
Budinger missed a 3, and Hayward raced for a crowd-silencing dunk with 5:34 remaining. Hayward made an off-balance shot, drew contact from Scola and hit the resulting free throw to put Utah up 93-83.
“We seemed to make the right play at the right time down the stretch,” Utah coach Tyrone Corbin said.
Derrick Favors finished off the Rockets with a dunk with 1:10 left for a 98-89 lead. Hayward swished a pair of free throws with 56 seconds to go, and Utah hit 100 points for the fifth time in six games.
Notes: The Jazz have won seven of their last 14 road games. … Utah blocked eight shots. The Jazz came in ranked fourth in the league in blocks per game (5.8). … Utah improved to 25-6 when holding its opponent below 100 points… Dragic reached double-figures for the 20th straight game, a career high. … Houston went 4-for-20 from 3-point range (20 percent).