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Without James Harden, Rockets crumble and lose to Hawks

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We really could have used the Beard in this one

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Rockets were up 17 points in the fourth quarter on the Atlanta Hawks, who have the NBA's best record. The Hawks won, 104-96. It's as bad as it sounded.

The Rockets were without James Harden because of a questionable suspension decision and they needed him. When the Hawks turned up their defense, the Rockets' offense with Patrick Beverley, James Harden, Josh Smith/Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas completely disappeared. It's hard not to feel cheated out of a signature win.

Before the Hawks went on a 32-12 run to end the game, the Rockets used their typical long-limbed defense to force 15 turnovers and get out on the break. Every player who saw the floor contributed. Donuts put up a 14-8-7 with three steals. JET dropped a season-high 21 points. Jones was huge again, with 18 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks. Even Patrick Beverley dished out 7 assists and grabbed 5 rebounds, but got roasted by Jeff Teague.

I had a few hundred words written before the Hawks made a run about what a complete team effort this was to rally without Harden, but deleted it all. It was a team effort, but good lord does this team need the Beard to close out games. There's a reason he gets the ball every single possession down the stretch for this team, because without him there is no creator.

A few other takeaways from tonight's game:

  • Is it weird to say Terrence Jones is better than ever? I know, I know, it's a small sample size, but he looks like a man among boys on certain plays. His offensive rebounding is terrifying. He has two or three boards per game that you just wonder how he came up with. His post-up game still could use some work, as could his jump shot, but the progress is real.

  • I love Donuts' game, but he really lacks strength. Especially when Jones comes in the game and flies to grab rebounds like the ball is a grapefruit. It's rare that Motiejunas gets a board in traffic that isn't, at the very least, poked away if not stolen altogether. He got eight rebounds in this game, so it's hard to complain too much, but he was thoroughly outmuscled by the Hawks' front line. It was a problem down the stretch. He did look like not a starting NBA playoff center tonight, folks.
  • Where in the hell is K.J. McDaniels? With no Harden, the bench grew by exactly zero players tonight. Ariza played 37 minutes, Beverley played 33, Brewer played 30, Terry played 28 and Pablo Prigioni played 13. I wonder if McHale has discussed stashing McDaniels on the bench to diminish his value, because tonight I don't understand why he didn't at least get run in the third quarter with the Rockets up double-digits.
  • I'm tired of harping on Ariza's three-point shooting, but he went 1-7 tonight. That's all I'll say.
  • Did I mention I'm mad about the Beard suspension? Because I'm still mad. The Rockets should have won this one, and the league took it away.
Harden will be back in action tomorrow night against the Grizzlies. As far as I'm concerned, we're still on a five-game winning streak.