After having two nights off after splitting a back-to-back against the Cavaliers and Knicks, the Rockets played a Hawks team that was on the second night of a back-to-back after their Friday night loss to the Wizards. However, it was the Rockets who looked like they were playing their second game in two nights, as they were lethargic and careless on both ends of the floor which lead to a comfortable win for the Hawks, 112-97 in the Dwight Howard revenge game.
In the first quarter, the Rockets came out hot from downtown, as Anderson hit three three pointers (with most coming from 25-28 feet). Just having Anderson standing at the three point line is a threat that opens up driving lanes for James Harden. Harden himself hit two threes in the first quarter, and his shot looks a lot cleaner and more consistent this season.
However, the Hawks countered the Rockets’ shooting with tough interior play and defense. Paul Millsap continues to be one of the most underrated players in the league, and he had 8 points in the first quarter, as the Hawks and Rockets were tied at 30 after one.
Then the turnovers kicked in for the Rockets. As I tweeted during the game, the Rockets looked like a team that had two nights off in Atlanta before the game. With Harden on the bench, Eric Gordon wasn’t able to produce in that main ball handler role he gets to start the second quarter, and the Rockets offense stagnated.
Millsap continued to cause problems for the Rockets as the Hawks got out to a comfortable lead before James Harden checked back in and took over to end the half. Harden had 8 points in the final minutes of the half and closed the Rockets’ deficit to six with the Hawks leading 65-59 at the break.
More of the same continued in the second half, with the Rockets continuing to be careless with the ball and not getting stops on defense. The Hawks really ran away with this game to begin the fourth quarter when (of course) Harden was on the bench. The Hawks played tough defense throughout the entire game, as they got in to the passing lanes to steal a lot of Harden’s kick outs. Also, the Rockets could never seem to get a defensive rebound when they needed one.
This is a game where Donatas Motiejunas would have significantly helped. It was a slow paced, sloppy game and most of the Rockets’ shooters were having off nights. It would have been a luxury to throw the ball in the post for D-MO to work when Harden was on the bench but alas, the team continues on without Motiejunas.
In the end, the Hawks cruised in the fourth quarter, using smart tough defense to capitalize on the Rockets’ self-destructing play. Although Harden finished with a routine (lol) 30 points, 12 assists, and 9 rebounds, the Rockets turned the ball over 25 times and went MIA on defense during crucial stretches. The Hawks were more physical inside, and used their defense to stymie the Rockets’ offense.
Even though the Hawks were the team coming off a back-to-back, they always looked more energetic and in to the game than the Rockets. Luckily the Rockets don’t have to face the dreaded Atlanta night life before their next game on Monday against the Wizards, another struggling team the Rockets should beat.