The Rockets was absolutely unconscious from long range, and despite some valiant Hawks runs to trim the gap, Houston came away with a 123-104 victory.
Al Horford picked and popped his way to 8 of Atlanta’s first 12 points. He finished with a quiet 18-13 double double. Josh Smith provided his usual rim protection with 4 blocks and a neat 17 points on 12 shots. Jeff Teague went 0-7 in the first half. Credit Jeff for staying aggressive but he just could not find his shot (4-17) or his handle on the ball (5 turnovers).
Many Hawks had good showings, however, including rookie John Jenkins, who may have found a permenant rotation spot with his recent run of good play. Despite the label of a catch-and-shoot guard, he looked smooth handling the ball and driving to the rim. He again set a new career high with 15 points on 6-9 shooting.
Back-to-back DeShawn Stevenson threes kept the Hawks competitive in the first quarter, but a 16-0 Houston run, including a 5-0 Asik rebound streak, lead to a 28-6 run and a stranglehold on the lead for the rest of the game.
The defense was a step slow and didn’t stop penetration or run out on shooters. Jeremy Lin, James Harden and Toney Douglas penetrated with no hesitance and Carlos Delfino, Marcus Morris, Patrick Patterson made the Hawks pay over and over. In the second quarter alone, the Rockets shot 63.6% (14-22) and 6-10 from three. The Hawks meanwhile were 29.2% (7-24), which resulted in a 38-19 second quarter score.
The Hawks got back into the game by blocking shots at the rim, which started transition opportunities for the many finishers on the team. The lead was down in single digits a few times, behind Lou Williams’ creative playmaking, but a 11-2 run late third sparked by Toney Douglas, yes, the same Douglas that fell out of a Knicks point guard rotation that featured Mike Bibby and Baron Davis before turning to Jeremy Lin last year, squelched any hopes of a true comeback.
Carlos Delfino stayed hot all night long. In only 30 minutes of play, he had 22 points on 10 shots without the benefit of free throws and also had 8 assists. His contributions led to an incredible +34 +/-. Omer Asik had 12 rebounds in the first half and finished with a game high 17.
To be honest, though the defense had stretches of lax play, the Rockets were simply stroking it from beyond the arc. Guard penetration led to open shooters, and Houston executed to perfection. It has even made the Rockets a top 6 team in the brutal Western Conference, despite doubts from many about their ability to compete.
The diagnosis for the Hawks defense is simple but the fix is more complex. Can Larry Drew count on Lou Williams and Jeff Teague to stop point guards from driving or does he need to send double teams at the three point line? I It remains just one loss for the 19-10 Hawks, but defensive communication and execuation must improve as Atlanta moves into 2013.
It’s a quick turnaround for the Atlanta Hawks as the head to New Orleans for a showdown against the
Pelicans Hornets tomorrow night.