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Tim Hardaway Jr shines as Hawks extend streak against Rockets

Tim Hardaway Jr turned in another sparkling performance as the Atlanta Hawks extended their winning streak to five straight with a 109-97 win over the Houston Rockets

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta Hawks started strong, had a lull and then finished strong in a 109-97 win over the Houston Rockets Saturday night at Philips Arena. The Hawks saw a big early lead slip away in the second quarter but clamped down in the second half outscoring Houston 57-39 including 27-14 in the fourth quarter.

"The way we started the game and the way we finished the game, defensively, a 16-point first quarter and then importantly, a 14-point fourth quarter," Mike Budenholzer said after the game.

"I thought the guys were great on that end of the court. It fueled a little bit of offense both in the first and fourth quarter. Obviously, Tim Hardaway was great. Kyle hit a couple of big three's Dennis hit a big three when I think we were down six or eight and struggling to score."

With Kent Bazemore back in the starting lineup, Tim Hardaway Jr. returned to the bench, but that didn't have a negative effect on his performance. Hardaway knocked down five three pointers against the Rockets on his way to 20 points and helped bring the Hawks back in the fourth quarter.

"If he can play like this every night, we'll take that," Budenholzer joked when asked about Hardaway's night. "I won't use the 'we have to get better' on him tonight."

Hardaway scored a season-best 21 points in Thursday's win over Denver and is 13 of 22 from the field and 7 for 11 from three-point range over his last two games.

"He's doing it with a defensive mindset," Budenholzer added. "He's coming out and doing the stuff he's been doing all year since he got back into the rotation. There's confidence on his part. There's a confidence on our part that the offense would come. His focus is where it needs to be. His focus is on continuing to be great on the defensive end, and now I think he's a little more natural, a little more comfortable. Hopefully you're seeing that manifest itself now on the offensive end of the court."

The draft night trade that brought Hardaway to Atlanta at the expense of a first round pick brought jeers from fans and media pundits alike. The debate will likely go on however, his recent play has revealed why the Hawks thought he could be successful.

"It feels good," Hardaway admitted when asked about his recent play. "It's just hard work paying off right now. We have to keep it going and keep pushing all the way, including when the playoffs start. Hopefully the season goes the way we plan on finishing it out. We'll get ready for that, but for now, we'll get ready for Monday."

Saturday's win increased Atlanta's win streak to five straight and kept them in third place in the Eastern Conference. The Hawks hold a one half game lead over Miami and a 1.5 game advantage over both Boston and Charlotte.