The Atlanta Hawks found their rhythm Saturday night with a 112-97 win over the Houston Rockets at Philips Arena. Atlanta opened the season with three dominant victories before a two-game losing streak left them flat. Saturday’s game was a much-needed shot in the arm.
It is too early in the season to draw any concrete conclusions about this team, but they are making a habit out of strong fourth quarter performances.
“That was a lot like we want to play for most of our fourth quarters....a lot of guys played well defensively,” Mike Budenholzer told reporters following the game. “And offensively, a lot of good things against a good team. Against Harden as an individual - the way he’s incorporating everyone into his game. On a back-to-back, the way our guys bounced back is a great sign.”
Atlanta held the Rockets to just 13 points in the fourth quarter limiting them to just 26 percent shooting. Harden finished with a game-high 30 points but went scoreless in the fourth missing all three of his attempts.
“We were just trying to give him different looks,” Budenholzer answered when asked about defending Harden. “He’s such a good player. Maybe when he gets to see something too much, he gets a rhythm and figures it out. I don’t know if it’s possible to keep him guessing.....but we just changed up the looks.”
Perhaps the biggest development in this game was the return to form of Kent Bazemore who had his best overall game of the season. Bazemore finished with 20 points on 7 of 12 shooting and was 3 of 4 from three-point range.
“I think his defense has been phenominal,” Budenholzer said. “I’m very happy with Baze. The shots are going to go. The offense is going to come. It’s great for him to see a bucket go. The challenge of guarding a Harden — you put your focus into that. He and I talked a lot about just focusing on his defense. It’s great to see him work that hard defensively and get rewarded on the other end. Hopefully that’s the way our whole team is built.”
Bazemore added four rebounds, four assists and three steals flashing more of that all-around game that we saw from him last season.
“James is playing at an unbelievable level,” Bazemore said after the game. “He has a group of guys that are playing for him, and he’s making all of those guys a lot better. It’s definitely an individual challenge to contain one of the best players in the NBA. You have to rely on your teammates a ton to be behind you, talking to you and trust that if you get beat, they’re there to help. We just played as a unit tonight and made it tough on him.”
All five of Atlanta’s starters finished in double figures. Paul Millsap led the way with 23 points and 11 rebounds. Dwight Howard added 20 and 14. Howard did most of his heavy lifting in the fourth with 11 points and nine rebounds. Kyle Korver snapped a mini-slump with 10 points on 4 of 6 shooting.
About the only blemish on the Hawks tonight was once again their free throw shooting where they were 14 of 24 for 58 percent. They are now dead last in the league in free throw percentage at 68 percent. It hasn’t really hurt them yet but it is something to keep an eye on as the season continues.
Atlanta will face its first true test of the season coming up on Tuesday when they travel to Cleveland to take on the Cavaliers. So far none of the Hawks opponents this season have a winning record and the top defensive team they have faced is Philadelphia which is currently 17th in defensive rating.