SALT LAKE CITY — As Derrick Favors checked out of the game less than three minutes into the fourth quarter, many fans rose from their seats and cheered. It was a well-deserved honor of the Favors whose 24-point and 10-rebound night was instrumental to the Jazz’s 118-91 blowout win over the Houston Rockets. And the timing of it was poetic.
Less than three minutes into the game, Rudy Gobert was ejected. Two questionable foul calls (including one on the tip) had left Gobert frustrated, and he took his frustration out by smashing a rosin bottle off the scorer's table and onto the court. That was that. Gobert’s night was done.
The Jazz’s, though, was just beginning. And it proved to be a special one.
Emotionally charged by the early ejection, the Jazz played what might have been their best basketball of the season.
And it was spearheaded by the man who replaced Gobert: Favors.
“Derrick came in and changed the game on both ends of the court,” Jae Crowder said. “He came in verticality when they got to the rim, he shifted over early, he won the game for us tonight.”
Favors did everything for the Jazz. He led them in scoring and he was the backbone to one of their best defensive performances of the season. But Favors wasn’t alone. Just about every player rose to the occasion. Dante Exum delivered key early minutes after being left out of the rotation the past couple games. Ekpe Udoh locked down Chris Paul in isolation in back-to-back possessions. Joe Ingles was phenomenal on both ends. And the list went on.
Crowder said that when they got back to the locker room following the contest, the team had a message for Gobert: “We had your back tonight — but don’t let it happen again.”
How Gobert got ejected was a curious thing. He was called for a foul as the ball went up on the opening tip. Referee Tom Washington explained postgame that Gobert grabbed the arm of Houston’s Clint Capela “which is illegal contact so it’s a loose ball foul.” The second foul was an offensive one where it looked as though James Harden heavily exaggerated the contact.
That led to the frustrated swipe at the scorer’s table and an early shower.
“I had a stupid reaction,” Gobert said. “I can blame myself more than anything.”
It was the quickest ejection in the last 15 years and obviously one of the fastest foul calls in history. When he was informed he had made history, Gobert jokingly fist pumped. The Jazz were able to have some fun about the call after the game because they won.
Gobert didn’t have to blame himself for a loss. That’s because his team stepped up.
The game may have begun with referee frustrations, but it ended with the Jazz putting on a masterclass of offensive and defensive execution. The outrage the fans felt at the beginning of the game was calmed by the Jazz simply outplaying Houston in every facet of the game.
After taking an 8-point lead into the break, the Jazz went on a 15-2 run to start the second half and ended up outscoring Houston 38-11 in the third quarter. The Rockets couldn’t get open shots, they struggled to complete passes and by the end of the quarter, they looked like they wanted their longer-than-normal trip to Utah (Houston arrived in Salt Lake City on Tuesday) to just be over.
Houston shot 38.6 percent from the field and 22.2 percent from behind the perimeter. James Harden was held to 15 points on 5-for-16 shooting. Chris Paul managed just 12.
“When Rudy went out, it’s on the team to still be aggressive,” Favors said.
They took Houston out of their sets and caused turnover after turnover — which led to plenty of easy looks on the other end. And the lead just kept growing and growing. The Jazz led by as many as 37 points on the night and shot 50.6 percent from the field.
Ingles finished with 18 points, Exum had 15 points and Favors led the Jazz with 24.
“Gotta stay ready,” Favors said. “You never know when your number is going to get called. … you always have to be ready.”