"It was obvious that we accepted losing," Scola said. "In the third and the fourth quarter, we decided that this was a game we weren't going to win. We let them run and dunk, and you cannot let that happen."
The Rockets have made a living this season by outworking their foes. This isn't a team with a superstar, although point guard Kyle Lowry has had his finest season as a pro and provided a strong case for the All-Star Game. It's a team that relies on the rebounding of Samuel Dalembert, the inside scoring of Scola, Lowry's playmaking, and a host of movable parts to make it all work.
Houston knows it can't just show up and win a game without its best stuff, like Miami or Oklahoma City. That's why McHale was so disappointed in the effort. Utah beat the Rockets at their own strength, by outworking them. The Jazz got out in transition, generated second-chance points, forced Lowry into eight uncharacteristic turnovers and never let Houston back into the game.
The Rockets responded by letting it happen, not fighting back and by being outscored 58-32 in the paint.
"We didn't play hard enough and that's the bottom line," McHale said. "You can look for a lot of reasons why this happened, but we just didn't get back and play with the defensive intensity that we needed. They really pushed the ball in transition. We were on a four-game winning streak, and they were on a four-game losing streak and it showed."
The statistics back everything up. Houston shot four free throws in the first half. The Rockets went 6 for 23 from 3-point land. They were outscored 31-18 in a telling second quarter. And Kevin Martin shot 2 for 10, his second consecutive alarmingly bad performance.
Houston's defense watched as C.J. Miles shredded it for a season-high 27 points. Devin Harris' game-long penetration was only stopped by an attack of nausea, and the Jazz led by as many as 23 points in the second half.
"We have got to keep playing," Scola said. "There is no reason in the world we should stop playing. If we play hard and lose, we can deal with that. Everyone loses. I care about not playing hard all the way to the end."
From the opponents' locker room …
Houston sees its four-game winning streak snapped.
The Rockets shoot 6 for 23 from 3-point range.
Kyle Lowry has eight turnovers against six assists.