HOUSTON – Lauri Markkanen scored a career-high 49 points on Thursday night to lead the Utah Jazz to a 131-114 win over the Houston Rockets.
Markkanen got off to a fast start with 18 points in the first quarter to help the Jazz take an early lead. Houston grabbed the lead late in the third quarter, but Utah ended that quarter on a 10–0 run and was on top for good.
“I’ve said it over and over again this year, it’s just my teammates, the coaching staff, they’ve put me in the right places to be successful,” Markkanen said. “My teammates did a great job of passing me the ball and I was just finishing my shots.”
With about 5 minutes remaining, an 8–2 run cut Utah’s lead to five. Jordan Clarkson hit a 3-pointer shortly afterward before Markkanen’s jumper cut the lead to 117–107.
Jalen Green added a basket for Houston before Marken scored the next four points to start a 14–0 run for the Jazz that made it 131–109 and sent fans running for the exits.
Markkanen added back-to-back triples late in the race. As he hit both the Utah bench players stood and cheered and were disappointed when the final 3-point attempt that would have earned them 50 points was missed.
“Jordan said, ‘Just go for 50,'” Markkanen said. “And I know they were double-teaming me at the end, but I had to try. I’m not really too worried that I didn’t make it, but it’s great to see my teammates excited, like I am. . ” for them.”
Green had 30 points and Kevin Porter Jr. added 23 for the Rockets, who lost their sixth straight.
Markkanen’s highest-scoring game entering Thursday was 38, which he had done twice, most recently on December 20 against Detroit. He made six 3-pointers and all 13 free throws on Thursday night to eclipse his previous best.
Jazz coach Will Hardy said, “He continues to work on different ways to impact the game offensively.” “He’s just shown an understanding of how to play when teams try to take things away from him.”
Coach Stephen Silas was frustrated with the number of times the Rockets sent Markken to the line.
“The free kicks were the most important part,” he said. “That’s always the most important part. When a player gets a lot of points, it’s your ability to be disciplined and not foul him or put him in the line 13 times. That’s how it works.”
The Jazz led by seven after Clarkson’s jump shot before the Rockets went on an 11–3 run to go up 86–85, giving them their first lead of the second half. Porter and Ja’Sean Tate made back-to-back 3-pointers to cap that run and put Houston on top.
The Rockets weren’t on top for long. Utah scored the final 10 points of the third quarter, on 3-pointers by Malik Beasley and Mike Conley, to take a 95–86 lead into the fourth.