Rockets' Ime Udoka name drops Hawks duo after loss

The Atlanta Hawks bigs were so effective against the Houston Rockets that Ime Udoka pulled one of his starters during the fourth quarter.
Houston Rockets head coach Ime Udoka vs the Atlanta Hawks
Houston Rockets head coach Ime Udoka vs the Atlanta Hawks / Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks’ 134-127 win over the Houston Rockets was difficult to come by.

Atlanta built up as much as a 20-point lead in the contest only for it to come down to the final minutes of the fourth quarter. At the same time, there were some notable happening in the contest that were telling.

For one thing, the Hawks frontcourt combo of Clint Capela and Onyeka Okongwu dominated the paint against a talented but inexperienced frontline for the Rockets.

So much so that Udoka benched starting center Alperen Sengun down the stretch, citing “mistakes” on defense that were prevalent throughout the team on the night.

“Whether it's big or small, we want our bigs to be up and stay beneath the rollers,” Udoka said via Locked on Rockets. “Obviously, [Onyeka] Okongwu got out a few times. [Clint] Capela, the same thing.

“Like I said, when they're not setting screens and slipping, you have to be able to adjust and defend those actions. And so that's what I saw: not the best pick-and-roll defense, rebounding – gave up a lot of offensive rebounds the last two games. A lot again tonight, especially in the first half.”

Capela finished with 15 points, nine rebounds, two assists, two steals, and one block. He had 13 points and six rebounds in the first half alone.

Okongwu had 19 points, 11 rebounds, and two assists. He stole the show with 14 points and five boards in the second half, going for 12 of his points and four of his rebounds in a critical fourth quarter.

Hawks clear Jalen Johnson to return to practice

The Hawks are 8-7 when Jalen Johnson suits up this season. They are just 4-8 without him, even after their win over the Rockets. Fortunately, he was among a slew of players to get a positive injury update ahead of that game.

“Jalen Johnson (left distal radius fracture on Nov. 25) has been cleared to return to full team practice. His status will be updated as appropriate,” the official update from the team said.

Bogdan Bogdanovic was also on that report as “questionable” for the game. But he suited up and finished with 22 points, five assists, and four rebounds.

Also listed were rookies Kobe Bufkin and Mo Gueye, who have been cleared in some capacity. Neither should be expected to have a significant role with the Hawks. But they should be able to carve out swathes of playing time with the College Park Skyhawks in the G League.