by Alma Bean
Feature Image: Photo by Elizabeth Conley of the Houston Chronicle.
Houston, We’re Ready for Takeoff
With Utah visiting, Houston wanted to show that they would not back down without a fight. Kevin Porter Jr. (23/6/2) drove to the hoop having the lead change seven times in the first five minutes of the game. Porter Jr.’s effort was overshadowed by the takeover that Lauri Markkanen (49/8/1) had in the first quarter. Markkanen shot 4/7 (57.1%) from the perimeter and 7/11 (63.6%) from the field. Over a three-minute timeframe, Utah went on a 15-0 run led by Markkanen to turn an 11-7 deficit into a 22-11 lead. Houston continued to try and create havoc for Utah but ending the quarter on a short 5-0 run, Houston trailed Utah 31-23.
In the second quarter, Utah managed to find a majority of its production on the perimeter. Shooting 6/14 (42.8%) from the perimeter, Utah shot an abysmal 4/13 (30.8%) within. Three of the made shots were in the paint and midrange jumper but all missed attempts came within the paint. Thankfully for Utah’s sake, Houston struggled from the perimeter shooting 2/10 (20%) for the quarter. Markkanen was the focal point of the first quarter, and Malik Beasley (19 points) was the shoulder to lean on for Utah in the second quarter. Shooting 4/7 (57.1%) from the perimeter and 5/8 (62.5%) from the field, Beasley scored 14 of his 16 first-half points in the second quarter. With the help of Alperen Sengun (20/14/3) and Jalen Green (30/4/4), Houston was able to match Utah point-for-point finishing the half trailing Utah 64-56.
Drink Order: Dirty Ochai Latte
Utah looked like they needed to shift their focus on offense. Going 2/9 (22.2%) from the perimeter, Utah began to focus on their interior shooting going 7/10 (70%) for the quarter. Utah had to find a response quickly as Houston went ballistic from the perimeter making four in a row and 7/13 (53.8%) for the quarter. As things were looking like they were getting out of hand, Utah was able to close out the quarter on a 10-0 run going into the final quarter with a 95-86 lead.
The fourth quarter belonged to Utah rookie Ochai Agbaji (11 points and 1 rebound). All 11 of his points came in the fourth quarter with three perimeter shots and posterizing dunk. Even though Agbaji excelled on offense, he quickly tallied up three fouls in 10 minutes. Houston was able to cool Utah down quickly with a 7-0 run following Agbaji’s third foul. Utah not only had a career-high for Agbaji but for Markkanen as well. Markkanen tied his original career high with 39 points, set earlier this season, with four minutes left in the game. Markkanen scored 12 of Utah’s final 14 points after tying his career high. With a stellar performance in the fourth led to a 131-114 win for Utah ending their five-game losing streak.
Utah will travel to take on the Chicago Bulls on Saturday in their final meeting of the season.