The Hawks — without Dennis Schröder — were led by Taurean Prince’s 28 points while Isaiah Taylor added a career-high 26 points.
For the Rockets — who were also without their starting point guard, Chris Paul, as well as Ryan Anderson and Luc Mbah a Moute — Gerald Green led the scoring with 25 points while James Harden added a triple-double: 18 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds. Eric Gordon also added 22 points.
A different class
In a matchup where the best in the West (and in the NBA) met the worst of the East, the Rockets were favored to win comfortably...and that’s what they did in the end.
This game was never close, the Hawks never led and the game — in truth — was over by the end of the first half, maybe even slightly before halftime as the Rockets rained three-after-three-after-three.
The Hawks came within 14 points in the third quarter but a quick 9-0 run by the Rockets near the very end of the third quarter quickly extinguished the already very faint chances of any possible fourth quarter comeback — you just never felt that the Rockets were in any danger whatsoever, that they were just coasting along to a franchise-best 60 regular season victories.
The Hawks conceded 69 first-half points and had just four players on the scoreboard by halftime in Taylor, Prince, Tyler Dorsey and Mike Muscala... Four. That is absolutely astonishing.
In short, the Rockets showed why they have the best record in the league (dispatching the Hawks in just two quarters) and the Hawks showed why they are where they are.
Truthfully speaking, this was just an absolutely horrible game to watch and there were so few positives to come out of this game — one of the rare examples where it’s almost just a total write-off.
Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer, however, did see some improvements as the game progressed in the second half to takeaway.
“Houston is having a special year, special season. James Harden, individually is having a special season,” said Budenholzer postgame. “They test us in every way. The good thing is the way we played in the second half, I think we got better. It’s not easy to keep the pedal to the metal but Houston does against most teams and they’re going to play with pace and keep letting the threes fly. I thought our transition defense was better, our ball-movement, our attacking was a little better in the second half.
For our young guys to play against a team this good and to get better as the four quarters went on, it’s one of our themes, one of the things we believe in. Pleased with how we got better.”
It was always going to be an uphill battle for the Hawks given the quality of the team they were facing but, perhaps, you would’ve liked to have seen the Hawks hang with Houston for a little longer with the Rockets on the second night of a back-to-back — you would never have known the Rockets were playing their second game in two nights.
We’ll talk a little more about the game but, really, there’s not much to say other than the Hawks were just steamrolled by the best team in the NBA — Houston are where they are for a reason.
“Sky’s the limit (for them),” said Budenholzer of the Rockets. “They have very high aspirations, they want a championship. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t be thinking that...”
Everyone knows that Houston jacks up a lot of threes...but can you stop it even though you know it’s coming?
The answer this season has, for the most part, been ‘no’ but the Hawks were on the end of the Rockets’ highest volume shooting nights from three of the season. The Rockets attempted 52 threes, making 20 of them.
Decisively, 14 of those came in the first half, let’s look at some...
Some of these threes were open, and open as a by-product of the Hawks’ defense of James Harden. Off of the pick-and-roll, the Hawks big would stay in the lane and deterring Harden from getting to the rim. Trevor Ariza was the early beneficiary:
The Hawks were more than happy to allow someone other than James Harden beat them, it seemed.
Again, same thing: Dedmon stays in the lane following the pick-and-roll and prevents Harden from getting to the rim. Harden makes the simple play back to Ariza for another three:
This was part of the reason why Harden only scored five points but dished out 12 assists in the first half.
The Hawks’ transition defense could’ve been...better, shall we say.
On this possession and off of a Hawks miss, no one picks up P.J. Tucker in transition as he heads to the corner. Harden has the easy job of picking him out (almost as effortlessly as possible) and the closeout by Dedmon is too late:
“We talked about how important transition D is and how many of those threes come in transition,” said Budenholzer postgame. “Everyone talks about the pick-and-roll and everyone talks about how good Harden is, and there’s no doubt they’re special, he’s special. But in transition you have to get back and cover the three-point line . . . felt like in the first half there were too many of those...”
It wasn’t the only time Dedmon seemed a little lost. After the ball is loose, Dedmon tries to get a hand in but to no avail. After Green goes by, Dedmon doesn’t return to his man, P.J. Tucker. The ball is swung to Tucker and Dedmon’s closeout, again, is too late and Tucker nails the three:
Dedmon wasn’t the only one a little lost at times — Tyler Dorsey also struggled to stick with his man on the perimeter.
Off of the Eric Gordan-Nene pick-and-roll, Gordon whips the ball out to the corner where Green is stationed. The pass flies right over Dorsey’s head and Dorsey can’t closeout quickly enough and the three from Green is made:
Near the end of the first quarter, the Hawks are playing 5-on-4 defense as Taylor is left hobbling. Harden fires a pass to the corner to Gordon and, again, Dorsey has left himself with too much ground to close and Gordon cans the three:
Ultimately, a combination of things that led to the Rockets’ 20 three-pointers — the Hawks could’ve done better defensively but this is just what the Rockets do and they have the personnel to do it.
Supposedly (and I say supposedly because I don’t believe it has been confirmed yet) but this game set an NBA all-time high for threes attempted in a game with 92 (52 for Houston, 40 for the Hawks). Because there aren’t enough three-point records that involve the Hawks...
Another career-night for Taylor
Having eclipsed his career-high on this road trip already in Sacramento with 18 points, Isaiah Taylor enjoyed another fine night as he recorded a new career-high of 26 points on 10-of-17 from the field, 3-of-6 from three and 3-of-4 from the free throw line.
Similar to the Sacramento game, Taylor had a lot of success driving to and finishing at the rim:
His pace is so quick that it causes problems for almost everyone, and the Rockets — without two of their better defenders in Paul and Mbah a Moute — could not contain Taylor’s penetration.
But we know that Taylor can do that, we know he can get to the rim — it’s the three-point shooting that was the bigger surprise from last night. Three-point shooting has not been a strength of Taylor’s this season: just 28% from distance on the year but he canned three of them last night.
The feeling was extra sweet for Taylor — who has spent a lot of time in Houston in high-school and college, as well as a brief stint with the Rockets — who was just looking to be aggressive and compete against the best team in the league.
“Just coming out looking to compete,” said Taylor of his aggressiveness. “We know that they’re one of, if not, the best team offensive in the league.”
...just come out and show everybody what I got and (that) I belong here.”
Mike Budenholzer, again, was left pleased with Taylor, his growth and his ability to the rim and finish.
“...just pleased with how Isaiah is growing,” said Budenholzer of Taylor. “His ability to get to the paint and finish, and his overall game is getting better too.”
Taylor has been a steady and consistent contributor in the starting lineup in the absence of Dennis Schröder, and he’s one the few players you could see hanging around after this rebuild — the potential is there for him to do so on both sides of the floor.
The Hawks (21-53) wrap up their six game road trip on Tuesday when they’ll take on the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center.
Should be interesting, as the Wolves are desperately trying to hang on to a playoff spot in the absence of Jimmy Butler.