Chuck Hayes Leads Houston Rockets in Colossal Utah Romp? Believe It

Robert Kleeman@@RobertKleemanSenior Analyst INovember 3, 2009

OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 28:  Chuck Hayes #44 of the Houston Rockets dribbles the ball during their game against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena on October 28, 2009 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

When it came to the Houston Rockets winning prospects in Salt Lake City Monday night, I was not amongst the massive crowd of non-believers.

I was at the gravesite shoveling the dirt over Aaron Brooks, Chuck Hayes, Luis Scola, and Rick Adelman.

When several friends asked if the Rockets had any chance at Energy Solutions Arena, I said "no" as emphatically as Charles Barkley says "yes" to Krispy Kremes.

Barkley, in case you missed it, thinks these Rockets will finish with the worst record in the West.

Fellow Bleacher Report NBA writer Andrew Ungvari opined they "would be lucky to finish 12th" in the conference.

Sports Illustrated's Ian Thomsen predicted the same fourth-to-last finish.

For one night, I was ready to bury them, too.

I guaranteed my inquisitive friends the team would lose by double figures. They had dropped 11 of the previous 13 contests there, many of those defeats by 10 or more points, and Energy Solutions Arena had always served as the franchise's House of 1,000 Corpses.

Like Rob Zombie films, Rockets games in Utah usually end in gruesome fashion.

If they could not steal one in the Jazz's haunts with a healthy Yao Ming and Ron Artest, how were they going to do it with a cast of role players and such low expectations?

Hayes. That's how. Scola's relentless work on the boards and in the paint. That's how.

Precision long-distance shooting from Aaron Brooks and Trevor Ariza. That's how.

The throng of Rockets shooters dropped smart bombs in the NBA's toughest environment and fist-pumped and snickered as Jazz fans tried to escape the rubble.

There is no such thing as a Utah Jazz team not tough to beat at home.

The squad could lose 11 road games in a row by 30 points, with Kermit the Frog at point guard and Beavis and Butthead at center and power forward, and most opponents would still be in for the asskicking of their lives.

Winning in Utah is like beating Bobby Fischer at chess or scoring higher on a linguistics test than Noam Chomsky.

The Los Angeles Lakers ousted the Jazz from the playoffs two years in a row and reached consecutive NBA Finals, finishing the job this spring.

The San Antonio Spurs bested the Jazz en route to a 2007 title.

Only the strong survive at ESA, with the above championship runs serving as proof.

Rockets fans should celebrate this improbable and momentous win, even if the Jazz at times look more defenseless than the French in World War II and more dysfunctional than the Partridge Family.

Yes, the lowly Golden State Warriors won in Utah last year, but that was an anomaly.

This victory was no accident or coincidence. The Rockets are going to do this to a lot of teams with superior talent.

Yes, Houston Chronicle columnist Jerome Solomon, sometimes contenders do take the night off when they assume the foe will be easier to kill than Kenny on South Park .

Before I could half-fill the grave, before the tombstone had arrived, there was the stoic Hayes, whacking me over the head with the shovel.

Sorry fellas. It won't happen again.

Hayes did not the lead the Rockets in scoring, though he poured in an effortless 12 points, nor was he the best rebounder. Scola hauled down 15 boards to Hayes's nine.

In 28 minutes, however, he led the team in effort and in steals, with three.

No one needs to crash the euphoria with the obvious caveats.

The Rockets won't shoot 10-of-19 from behind the arc often enough to win more of these tough road contests.


Got it.


Brooks cannot be expected to maintain his averages of 21 points and eight assists, higher than those of the player to which he is most often compared in Tony Parker.

Roger that.

Kyle Lowry and Brooks will not win every point guard duel with Deron Williams.


A 3-1 start in the first week guarantees nothing, not even a finish higher than 12th.


To those skeptical of the team's ability to challenge for a playoff spot, this win should change your mind.

If it doesn't, you might want to get that head checked.

You might have dementia. You might be insane.

The road to the playoffs has just begun for sure.

Oklahoma City started 2-0 and the LA Clippers appear more competitive than last season, even with top pick Blake Griffin on the shelf.

Phoenix out-gunned teams three times last week.

The Rockets will have to fend off all three squads to grab that seventh or eighth spot in the West.

Don't let such minor details spoil your deserved enjoyment of Monday night's shocker, Rockets fans.

For one night, the team conquered its hell and clubbed those Jazz ghosts and monsters until they begged for mercy.

Normally victims of torture in Salt Lake City, the Rockets found a ruthless second and third gear.

Houston prevailed 113-96, with Hayes acting as the team's chief hellraiser.

Believe it.

What the Rockets did right :

  • The Jazz attempted 16 of their 34 free throws in the first quarter. The Rockets attempted zero foul shots in the opening period.

They limited Utah's charity-stripe trips in the second half and attacked the basket to earn 26 of their own.

  • The Rockets trailed by two after 12 minutes and by only three at the end of the first half. They carried a two-point lead into the final frame. Keeping the score close at each buzzer was a gigantic confidence builder.
  • The Jazz poured in 56 points in the first 24 minutes but just 39 in the second half, a testament to the Rockets defensive improvements throughout the game.
  • The Houston bench outscored the Utah reserves 39 to 11. Chase Budinger contributed 17 huge points, including a long three over the outstretched arms of Ronnie Brewer and nifty up-and-under drive. Lowry and Carl Landry each added 10.
  • Only one Rockets player who saw more than 120 seconds of action failed to score in double figures. David Andersen made only one of his seven attempts in 13 minutes.
  • For the first time this season, the Rockets won the rebounding battle, 46 to 38. This against a team that has routinely used its interior bangers to frustrate Houston on the glass.
  • Brooks dished eight assists in addition to his 19 points. He executed several tricky dribble drives, finding Hayes and Landry for easy layups. He swooshed all five freebies.
  • Together, Lowry and Brooks made life tougher than usual for Williams, who finished 6-of-20 from the field.
  • The Rockets shot 50 percent from the field, even with a string of nine misses in 11 tries in the third quarter.
  • Hayes and the rest of the undersized big man cavalry rendered Carlos Boozer a non-factor. The grumpy forward managed just seven points on one-of-six shooting.
  • Hayes drew at least two charges, and they were easy calls.
  • The Rockets assisted on 29 field goals.
  • The team converted many of Utah's 19 turnovers into fast break opportunities. The Rockets bested the Jazz in that category, too, 29 to 28.
  • With no dominant low-post presence and an offense still in progress, the Rockets can live with 14 turnovers in a hostile environment.

What must improve :

  • The Rockets did surrender 28 points to the Jazz on the run. That number needs to come down by a few buckets.
  • The six free throw misses should concern Adelman. The only player with a reasonable excuse to miss, Hayes, attempted one foul shot. Scola, Andersen, Lowry and Budinger have no alibies.

Houston ranks 18th in the league in free throw percentage. Unacceptable for a team that cannot afford to give away free points. These guys call themselves shooters, right?

  • Ariza clanged 9-of-15 attempts, a sign that he's still forcing shots in his new, expanded role.
  • Williams found numerous Jazz players on easy backdoor cuts. I counted five in the second quarter alone. Every Rocket must rotate so that opposing players don't find themselves wide open underneath the basket.
  • Several double teams were late or unnecessary, resulting in easy layins for Jazz guards.
  • The Rockets allowed Andrei Kirilenko to nail an uncontested three at the third quarter buzzer to cut the Jazz deficit to two. Those shots can swing the momentum back i
  • The defensive effort in the first half needs to be as complete as the one in the second.

The Rockets head back to Houston for a Wednesday reprisal of their spring playoff joust with the defending champion Lakers.

Will Pau Gasol play? The answer to that could be huge in determining the Rockets chances.

Oops. There goes that premature shovel again.