Houston was seeking its 6th win in 8 contests, but wound up with a surprising loss against a Hawks team that we held a 6 game winning streak over over the past several games.
Its a bad way to start off a four game road trip, but it is a loss that I'm sure we will recover from. Injuries definitely colored this game on both sides and that certainly shouldn't be forgotten. But to be honest, I really do want to forget this game.
Onto the walkthrough.
Houston normally goes to Howard on the first couple of possessions offensively, and tonight was no different. Without Horford, this Hawk's interior defense made this initial play call make more sense than it usually does.
Harden kept his shooting up from the night before, hitting his first, and only, 3-pointer of the half on his way to a team leading 12 points at intermission.
Houston got whatever it wanted early on and apparently the Rockets wanted an 11-0 run by Harden and Howard to start the game. The defense also pretty impressively started by not allowing an Atlanta field goal or point for the first six minutes of the first quarter. Atlanta was plagued by 8% shooting at one point during the 1st.
After a couple loose ball fouls on Dwight early on, Greg Smith got some early minutes after being out with a knee injury. He was able to avoid foul trouble (minor miracle in and of itself), grabbed an offensive rebound, and got a bit of a gorilla dunk of his own. He finally was able to show flashes of the Greg Smith we remember from last season and personally I could not be happier about seeing some production out of our backup bigs.
With about 4 minutes left, both teams started to pick up the scoring but Atlanta began to feast on a few silly turnovers and poor transition defense, which allowed them to close the scoring gap a bit.
The low scoring 18-10 first quarter was a product of one of the better defensive efforts to start a game from the Rockets, a dilapidated Hawks line-up devoid of consistent go-to scoring, and a Houston offense that needed one more guy to step up to sustain their initial lead.
Hawks opened up the second quarter by immediately scoring 30% of their first quarter scoring on a 3-point shot. It took them 3 minutes to reach their 1st quarter total and it was finally at least clear that Atlanta was going to have a pulse tonight.
Mike Scott was the lone Hawk able to get his offense going consistently when on the floor, scoring 8 of their first 10 points and midway through the second quarter he had scored more points than the rest of his team combined.
Howard's post-game on Pero Antic was a joy to watch when we got him the ball in position. Despite Antic's girth, he kept getting thrown around like a rag doll by Dwight on the isolation post plays we went to early and often. Harden was also able to hit a 3-point bucket right out of the gate and got his offense going early, getting to the free throw line and forcing his way to the rim.
Atlanta started to make a charge on the heels of a couple of Millsap 3-pointers and a Rockets offense that started to get a bit stagnant, drawing the Houston lead down to a single possession by halftime, 41-39.
Millsap remained fairly contained, totaling only 8 first half points, (6 of them on three pointers in the last few minutes) and outside of a few other shots by Korver and Teague, Atlanta's long distance scoring was not very effective.
Aaron Brook and Greg Smith sparked the Rockets bench effort by hitting 5 of 7 shots and combined for 11 points by halftime. Predictably, Houston's offense was generated through Harden and Howard who combined for 21 of the Rocket's uncharacteristically low 41 first half points. Dwight and James were 8 of 14 from the floor, but the rest of the team was 8 of 24. Take away the Brooks/Smith production mentioned above and you are left with Brewer, Casspi, Garcia, Lin, and Jones performance of 3 for 17 (17%).
Terrence Jones opened up the second half with his first field goal of the night. After Atlanta responded with a little bit of a run, Dwight Howard gets a thunderous dunk off of an offensive board and James Harden gets fouled on a 3-point shot by Demarre Carroll. Afterwards, it seemed like Kyle Korver was able to get clean look at the basket after clean look at the basket on catch and shoot jumpers bringing to score to a tie.
Paul Millsap gave Atlanta its first lead in the game as well as took over the offensive scoring load for Atlanta in the second half. Motiejunas replaced Terrence Jones and Millsap was taking advantage of Dmo's defensive ineptitude. The third quarter seemed to go the exact opposite direction as the 3rd quarter against the Lakers a few days ago.
The fourth quarter began with a Dwight post-up, a common feature of most of the beginnings of quarters. Houston had started to have trouble getting the ball to him in favorable post position. The Rockets started to get back into the game with Dmo and Brooks contributing heavily early on in the final quarter, but sluggish defensive recoveries in the half court and in transition on top of sloppy passes allowed Atlanta to extend their lead to six with 8 minutes left.
Houston then had a few great defensive possessions, forcing a 24 second violation and then generating a turnover that got Harden to the free throw line in transition. Aaron Brooks followed that up by hitting another timely 3-pointer to pull the lead within one point, 73-72. The great defensive effort continued with crisp rotations but the Rockets could not seem to get the rebound, coughing up at least 3 extra possessions to the Hawks. Thankfully, the defense persisted and kept the score within a point.
Korver finally ran loose from Garcia through a two off-ball screens and nailed a 3-point shot and Demare Carroll hit one after Atlanta tried to work the Millsap-Harden matchup on the switch and forced a bit of defensive scrambling.
Within the final minute, Harden missed on a drive to the basket which resulted in a Hawks possession that lead to a missed shot and a disputed out of bounds review, which thankfully revealed Elton Brand tipping the ball out of bounds, giving Houston the final possession down by 1 point, 79-78.
Aaron Brooks ran a 1-2 screen with Harden that had some miscommunication on the pass, leading to a devastating turnover with 25 seconds left.. Brooks thought Harden would be fading to the other side of the key after the pick but the ball did not meet him there when AB passed out of the drive.
Houston was then forced to foul Korver with 15 seconds left. Kyle proceeded to sink them both, pushing the lead to 3.
Jeremy Lin received a very good pass from Harden once he finally drove towards the basket and nailed a shot from the corner that, while appearing to be a 3-pointer, was actually a 2-pointer because Jeremy had his toe on the line, putting the score at 81-80 with 6.5 seconds left.
Korver got the ball again before he was fouled and hit both his free throws.
Houston never got a shot off after that. Houston was forced to spend time bringing the ball up the court and Lin passed out of what would have been a poor shot, getting the ball to Harden with too little time to get a decent shot off.
Final score, 83-80
This loss was deflating to say the least. The Hawks forced us to play their pace and, in fact, outscored us in fastbreak situations 16-4. Both teams played pretty sloppy for stretches, but Atlanta was particularly focused on getting back on defense and preventing our easy buckets in transition. Their scrappyness on the boards helped limit our opportunities to get out and run and Paul Millsap's second half performance deserves a hat tip as well.
Harden and Howard collected 50% of our scoring output with 40 points on 25 shots. Howard had a double-double and Harden added 7 rebounds and 7 assists to his team-leading 25 points.
Lin continued his string of performances we know he can do better than. His would-be game tying 3 pointer that got called back as a two was incredibly gut-wrenching because of how good of a shot we ended up with on that possession, but sometimes toes are just a bit to big.
With Chandler Parsons out, it was even more clear this game how much he greases the wheels of the offense for many of the others.
The bottom line though is that more than three players (Harden, Howard, and Brooks) need to show up consistently through out the game, especially in a contest where even a couple of buckets makeup a larger proportion of our total than normal.
Francisco Garcia, Terrence Jones, and Ronnie Brewer need to show up more offensively for us. Honestly, I was surprised that Greg Smith and Omri Casspi didn't get a longer look during the game. Not saying that it would have changed the outcome, but I thought both were going to get more minutes than Garcia/Dmo by the end of the game.
The Wizards have a little bit less of an injury bug, so I hope that we can pull it together so we can continue to stay afloat in the western conference playoff race while we wait for major players to get back into the lineup
Check out more coverage over at Peachtree Hoops