In what was one of the more frustrating first halves of the season, the Atlanta Hawks clawed their way back on Tuesday night for an impressive 121-115 road win over the Houston Rockets.
It was an absolute offensive explosion from the Rockets in the first half with 71 points on 69 percent shooting from the field and from the three-point line. Houston's game plan early was to take the ball right at the undersized Atlanta frontcourt with Dwight Howard and Clint Capela. It worked. The rotations were slow, and the Rockets converted on numerous alley-oops to open up the game. Houston opened up the largest lead of the game with just over 10 minutes remaining in the second quarter at 47-28.
The Hawks' response early seemed to be Walter Tavares off of the bench. Edy contributed six points and six rebounds in 10 minutes of play, but he wasn't able to help much defensively to slow down the Rockets' paint-heavy attack.
Instead, Atlanta relied on its frontcourt that Houston determined it could attack. Al Horford and Paul Millsap took control of the game in the second half with improved interior defense and buckets from all over the floor. Horford notched a season-high five three-pointers, which was much needed due to Kyle Korver's rough 0-11 night. Horford finished the game with 30 points and 14 rebounds on 11-15 shooting. Millsap did most of his work inside of the paint, where he fought against the much bigger Capela and Howard, yet he finished the night with 22 points, 13 rebounds, four assists, and five blocks -- two of which came on a crucial possession in the final minute to put a cap on the victory.
Kent Bazemore also put together one of his best career performances in the game. Matched up on James Harden for most of the night, Bazemore held Harden to 6-16 shooting while dropping 26 points of his own, including five makes from beyond the arc. His step-back, game-tying three-pointer with just over a minute left and the shot clock winding down was possibly the biggest field goal of the game. On the next possession, Bazemore forced a shot-clock turnover as Harden lost the ball with a few seconds remaining and was swarmed by Bazemore.
After coming back to tie the game at 82 in the third quarter, the Hawks' reserves let it get back to a double-digit deficit early in the fourth. Trailing 103-94, the starters tallied a 10-0 run to gain their first lead since the first quarter. It was then Smite-a-Dwight-and-HaC(k)apela for the next few minutes leading up the big-time sequence from Bazemore.
Some interesting numbers. Dwight Howard was a -20 in 38 minutes on the floor despite his 23 points and 13 rebounds on 9-10 shooting. His counterpart ... +17 for Al Horford in 36 minutes.
It looked like a dreaded lackluster performance on a back-to-back early, but instead, the Hawks managed one of the most impressive wins of the season after a loss to the Pacers. It's the type of win that can easily kickstart another run that can continue to push Atlanta forward in the Eastern Conference race. Next up, the Hawks will head to New York to face the Knicks on January 3rd after a nice break through the New Year.