SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Eric Gordon is feeling like himself again on offense. That's bad news for Houston opponents.
Gordon scored a career-high 50 points to lead the short-handed Rockets to a 126-117 victory over the Utah Jazz on Monday night without James Harden and Russell Westbrook.
In a stat line that resembled one Harden might put up, Gordon shot 14 of 22 from the field — including 6 for 11 on 3-pointers — and 16 of 20 at the free throw line. He became the first Rockets player besides Harden to score 50 points in a game since Hakeem Olajuwon had 51 in January 1996, according to STATS. Harden has done it 23 times since.
"I feel like I'm getting back to being myself,” said Gordon, who had knee surgery in November. “I told everybody when you have surgery during the season, it's always going to be a process.”
Houston needed his outburst with Harden, Westbrook and Clint Capela sitting out. The veteran guard had his first game with more than 30 points this season. His previous career best of 41 came against Oklahoma City on Jan. 23, 2009.
“You just marvel in it," teammate Austin Rivers said. "He's like a bowling ball when he drives to the basket. Dudes just bounce off of him. He's so low to the ground and he's so strong."
Gordon missed 22 games after having surgery on his right knee Nov. 13. Since his return, he’s averaging 20 points in 13 games.
“He's pain-free for the first time in a year and a half,” Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said. “There will be ups and downs like all the others, but Eric is going to be good. As long as he's not hurting, he's going to be good.”
Harden missed his second straight game with a bruised left thigh. Capela (bruised right heel) and Westbrook (rest) sat out after playing Sunday against Denver.
Danuel House Jr. added 21 points and a career-high 11 rebounds, and Rivers also had a season-best 21 points as Houston handed the Jazz their first home loss since Dec. 9.
Donovan Mitchell scored 36 points and Bojan Bogdanovic added 30, but Utah lost for just the third time in 22 games despite shooting 51% from the field.
“We weren't expecting to play perfect the rest of the year and we're going to have games like this,” Mitchell said. “The biggest thing is how we respond.”
Gordon scored 15 points in the second quarter and helped the Rockets close the first half on a 17-6 run to take a 59-46 lead into the break. Thabo Sefolosha started and finished the run by driving for layups.
“We weren’t as focused and dialed in on all the details in the game,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “Eric Gordon is one of the best scorers in the league. We have a game tonight where he knows they need his points and he’s even more aggressive.”
Utah trimmed the deficit to 72-66 midway through the third on consecutive 3s from Bogdanovic, but got no closer. Rivers and House answered with back-to-back baskets to stop the rally. That sparked a 15-6 spurt that gave Houston an 87-72 lead near the end of the quarter.
There was a moment of silence for Kobe Bryant before tipoff. Bryant died Sunday at age 41 in a helicopter crash in California along with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others.
The Jazz committed a 24-second shot clock violation on their first possession. The Rockets followed by committing an 8-second backcourt violation. Both gestures were done in remembrance of Bryant, who wore jersey numbers 24 and 8 during his 20-year NBA career with the Los Angeles Lakers.
“He's a legend and we're going to miss him,” Mitchell said. “I think we can all do our part because he was a legend, not just on the court, but as a human being.”
Jazz fans put together a shrine for Bryant on the J Note statue outside the arena. The shrine included Bryant jerseys, basketballs, flowers, teddy bears, balloons and candles. It also featured a handwritten sign that said, "Thank you Kobe!"
Houston played small ball against Utah with great success. The tallest starter for the Rockets was the 6-foot-6 House. D'Antoni put 6-foot-5 P.J. Tucker at center with Capela out.
The strategy bothered the Jazz for long stretches. Houston attacked the rim often and ended up attempting an NBA season-high 49 free throws. The Rockets scored 35 points from the line to go along with 40 points in the paint.
“This is something we've been looking at — going small. That really messed with them,” Rivers said. “We played at a speed that was uncomfortable for them."
Rockets: Sefolosha made a season-high four field goals. … D'Antoni challenged a foul called on Michael Frazier with 4:19 left in the first quarter. It was overturned and changed to an offensive foul on Bogdanovic. … Houston scored 26 points off 18 Jazz turnovers and had a 20-9 edge in second-chance points.
Jazz: Rudy Gobert grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds. … Utah shot 3 of 22 from 3-point range in the first half. … The Jazz outscored Houston 56-40 in the paint.
The Rockets visit Portland on Wednesday.
The Jazz visit San Antonio on Wednesday.