Houston Rockets coach Stephen Silas started the night with a long list of problems.
“The Utah Jazz are a problem to defend,” he said before tipoff. Even without Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley in the lineup “they’re still shooting a ton of 3s and getting out in transition. [Bojan] Bogdanovic is a problem. [Rudy] Gobert and all of the problems he creates.”
And while Silas didn’t list him by name, Georges Niang was absolutely a problem Saturday night.
The Utah Jazz forward tied his career-high and lead the team in scoring with 24 points in a 124-116 win over the Rockets at Vivint Arena.
“He plays the right way, regardless of whether he’s starting or playing his regular role,” Joe Ingles said of Niang. “He’s always confident. This last week or two just being out there a bit more, getting some more opportunity, and he’s taking advantage of it.”
The win was the Jazz’s fifth in a row, their 50th on the year, and it moved them 1.5 games ahead of the second-place Phoenix Suns for the time being.
“It’s a true testament to all the guys we have in the locker room, especially with the injuries we have,” Niang said. “Everybody’s stepping up.”
Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson scored 21 points off the bench. Bogdanovic had 20 points. Rudy Gobert finished with 13 points and 14 rebounds. And Ingles filled up the stat sheet with 14 points, six rebounds, seven assists and a steal.
Niang was averaging better than 10 points a game and shooting better than 45 percent from beyond the arc in his last 10 appearances coming into the night. He only improved on those numbers Saturday. The forward went 9 for 12 from the floor, including a 6-for-8 night from downtown.
“Guys like Joe, Rudy, did a great job of manipulating Houston’s ability to switch 1-5 … and allowed us to get off a ton of 3s,” Niang said.
Houston led 46-45 with 5:39 left in the first half. That would be the last time the Jazz trailed. Utah answered with a 13-3 run and was never in any real danger after that.
The Jazz gave up just 23 points in the third quarter.
“With how we were playing, you could tell we were fatigued,” Niang said. “But we pushed through.”
Coming off an emotional win over Denver and fighting fatigue as they played their final back-to-back game of the season, Snyder appreciated the fight he saw from his team.
“We knew tonight was going to be the type of game it was,” Snyder said. “They were going to run and they were going to play hard. … But I like that we dug in, particularly at the beginning of the game and the beginning of the third quarter.”
With four games left in the regular season, count Silas among those who believe the Jazz are now poised for a deep playoff run ahead.
“I think they’re a legitimate contender,” he said. “They’ve been together for a long time and they know each other so well. So, regardless of the first-round losses or whatever, that experience and now the success they’ve had this season makes me believe they’re a contender. There are very few holes in their team. They have go-to guys. They play with purpose on both ends of the floor. They’re a good defensive team with Gobert. Then Clarkson is a wildcard off the bench, and he can win you a playoff game or series. And they do have those guys that, when things break down, they can go get you one.”
The Jazz will head west for a Monday matchup with Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors. Tipoff is 8 p.m.