James Harden lead all scorers with 28 points (7-17, 5 assists) but it was Carlos Delfino whose performance in tonight's New Year's Eve match up with the Hawks was the most valuable. When Daryl Morey first signed Carlos Delfino this summer, there was a lot of doubt regarding his role and value to a young run and gun team. Tonight, Carlos set his season high in points and assists with 22 points (6-8 from downtown) and 8 assists. Delfino has been a rock this season coming off the bench and against the Hawks he was a even more fluid as a veteran presence to anchor the second unit. We really could have used this guy against the Thunder. The Rockets tied a season high in three pointers made (16) and only turned the ball over nine times. The Hawks were in contention deep into the third quarter but a late game scoring punch ended what had become an uncomfortably close game.
Omer Asik had 12 rebounds in his first 15 minutes of play time and finished with 17 (all defensive) rebounds and 11 points. Asik had his 14th double double of the young season and had a decent game offensively aside from that awkward spinning hook shot he continues to embarrass himself with. In garbage time tonight Asik displayed more of an effective post game. Let's hope he figures out what works and what doesn't soon.
Marcus Morris is still starting and had 15 points in 26 minutes. Patrick Patterson, who played mediocre off the bench, just might be losing his starting role to the second year forward out of Kansas. Morris is already a much better offensive player; I love Morris' shimmy midrange jump shot. Morris has also started to bring the ball up the court when an outlet pass isn't immediately available, Royce White style (too soon?). Patterson is a more educated defender and is a better shot blocker. I think McHale is going to favor rebounding at his starting power forward spot long term, both forwards can shoot the ball effectively enough from range to space the floor. Morris' per 36 numbers are superior as a rebounder but his sample size is much smaller and I'm not yet convinced he's any better of a rebounder than PatPat is at this point. For what it's worth, Patrick Patterson's shoes were significantly better than Morris'.
The Rockets shot the ball well to start the game (55.6%) but failed to slow the Hawks in any capacity. DeShawn Stevenson stepped up to guard Harden, beard on beard, and sank two three's that put the Hawks up by 1 at the buzzer. Al Hortford was on a scoring tear and did not miss a shot from the field. Omer Asik needs to adjust his game to properly defend jump shooting big men or Kevin McHale needs to switch up the match ups in situations where he has Asik on a shooter and Marcus Morris on a bruiser. I find it astounding that Larry Drew even thought about deviating from Hortford as the focus of the offense, but then again I'm not an NBA head coach.
In the second quarter the Rockets coupled a balanced offense with some defensive intensity; the result was a twenty-point lead. Jeremy Lin had a impeccable quarter. After some trouble from behind the arc (Lin is only 27.1% from deep this season), Lin started penetrating and converting through contact. During one sequence Lin stuffed Josh Smith, maintained possession of the ball and then lead the fast break. The Rockets have found an interesting B-squad with Lin, Douglas, and Delfino who lead a 16-0 run early in the second. The dual point guard line up has been a super efficient scoring machine this season and reminds me just a tad of Rick Adelman's infatuation with the Aaron Brooks/Kyle Lowry backcourt. James Harden ended the half with two free throws and a three pointer (and he nearly had another).
The Hawks came out of the locker room determined to make this game competitive. Louis Williams (21 points) and Josh Smith (17 points) carried the offensive load for Atlanta while Houston failed to score or get stops. Chandler Parsons was quickly benched in favor of Carlos Delfino after he failed to hit any of his shots in the second half. The Rockets maintained a lead of around eight points through the beginning of the quarter. Jeremy Lin managed to throw a perfect full court pass to James Harden. The Rockets blew the lead back to a comfortable 15 point spread with help from the bench. Carlos Delfino, Patrick Patterson, and Tony Douglas in particular all had a positive impact while the starters rested (31-13 bench points).
Defense was a problem for Houston to start the fourth. Jeff Teague, who had previously been a non-factor, was carving his way to the hoop. Hawks rookie John Jenkins had 15 points and was a big part of the 9-2 run that (punctuated by a Zaza Pachulia hook shot) forced Kevin McHale to call a time out. There were three specific plays that ended Atlanta's momentum and won this game, each better than the previous one:
- James Harden stole the ball, set up the offense, broke down DeShawn Stevenson on the drive for a three point play (the old fashioned way)
- Marcus Morris hit the last of his three three-pointers in the clutch
- Harden stole the ball again, fed to Morris in transition who threw the ball up to Omer Asik for an alley-oop slam
Tonight's win was exciting, encouraging, and a team effort. James Harden has had 13 straight games for 20 points or more and nine in a row with 25 or more. Let's all raise our glasses tonight and hope that this young squad continues to grow in the coming year. The Rockets haven't been this fun to watch in several years and things can only get better going forward.
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