The Atlanta Hawks traveled to southeast Texas for a Monday night bout with the Houston Rockets and MVP candidate James Harden. The Hawks hit the road (for one game) after they came out of the All-Star break with two home games back to back over the weekend, losing Friday night to Detroit before beating Phoenix on the following night.
Lloyd Pierce ran out a starting lineup of Trae Young, Kevin Huerter (in his first game back from an ankle injury that sidelined him coming out of the Break), Kent Bazemore, John Collins and Dewayne Dedmon, while Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni started Chris Paul, Harden, P.J. Tucker, Kenneth Faried and Clint Capela.
The visitors fought hard, but despite a great offensive night from Young, they simply could not keep pace with the high-powered Houston offensive attack in the closing moments. The Rockets seized control of the game late in the third with a 13-3 run and never let go of the lead after that point despite valiant efforts from the road underdogs, who got as close as one in the fourth behind an outstanding performance by Trae Young.
Young finished with a career-high 36 points to go along with eight assists, hitting what was also a career mark of eight three-pointers (all from 27 feet or further, for what it’s worth) on 12 attempts from behind the arc. Despite the loss, it was a signature showing from Young, who looked like the player the Hawks’ brass envisioned when they acquired him on draft night. He was the best player on the floor for stretches and certainly willed the Hawks into a close game, but it wasn’t quite enough in the end to overcome the Rockets.
“Of course you want to play well,” Young said of the hard-fought loss and his career performance. “But at the end of the day, if we don’t win, I’m not going to feel good about it... I’m proud of the way our team fought. We’ve been battling all year, coming down to the wire in a lot of games... For us to learn and be in these moments... we’ve just got to get better at it.”
Trae Young's shot chart.— Kevin Chouinard (@KLChouinard) February 26, 2019
His made threes were from 27, 30, 27, 31, 27, 29, 30, and 28 feet. pic.twitter.com/fHOKeVHZDe
“Every shot he takes he’s shooting it with confidence,” Pierce said of Young’s career night. “When they fall, the confidence just grows. It was nothing different he did tonight, he got hot, we continued to play him more minutes and I thought he played (and competed) extremely well. When he’s shooting like that (early), you know it’s going to be a special night.”
It was a back-and-forth affair to start, with Houston leading 11-10 around the 8:30 mark in the first. Young and Huerter were both active early, each hitting a three-pointer in the early moments.
Sloppy play and a Bazemore technical foul in the ensuing moments from Atlanta led to a 8-0 run that pushed the Houston lead to to 19-10 before a ridiculous prayer of a three from Young to cut it back to six.
Houston then pushed the lead back to eight before a 5-0 run, powered by a Jaylen Adams three, cut it back to three at 21-18.
The Rockets then closed the quarter on a 18-10 run to push the lead to 39-28 after the first.
Spellman opened the second quarter scoring with a powerful slam off a nice feed from Young.
While the Hawks couldn’t buy a stop early in the second, Young hit his third consecutive three as he continues to carry the Atlanta offense on a consistent basis with his passing as well as his scoring. Young continues to improve his season percentage from deep.
The Hawks got down 12, but a 9-0 run capped by this Bazemore triple cut it back to three, getting the road team back into the ball game as the second unfolded. Shortly after, a Young bullet pass to Collins cut it back to two before another Hawks stop and yet another Bazemore three to take a 53-52 lead. All in all, it was a 16-3 run by the Hawks to move ahead.
Young finds Collins with what might have been the best pass in the entire game.
Bazemore continues to find his rhythm (23 points Saturday vs. Phoenix) after regaining his spot in the starting lineup after mixing extended time this season due to injury.
The Rockets responded with a 4-0 run before a heat-check-range (32 feet) Young three knotted it back up at 56. The two teams traded points for the remainder of the quarter and ended the half tied up at the 60-point mark.
The second quarter turned out to be one of the best of the season for the Hawks, as they outscored the Rockets 32-21 in the period and committed only one turnover as a team after turning it over five times in the first.
Young had the scoring going from the jump, as he notched 18 points (5 for 9 overall, 4 for 5 from three-point range) in the first half while also tallying four assists. He was also 4 of 4 from the free-throw line.
Bazemore also had it going in the opening half for the visitors, posting 12 points on 4 for 7 shooting from the floor and 2 for 4 from three-point range.
Harden led the way (as usual) in the scoring department for the Rockets, with 13 points (2 for 9 from the field, 0 for 4 from three-point range and 9 of 10 from the charity stripe). Paul added ten points and four assists for the home team in the first half of play.
In what was another sloppy sequence from the Hawks, Houston was able to take a four-point lead after a Dedmon technical foul and a couple of buckets, before a Collins corner three cut it back to one. The second-year big continues to be efficient on open threes.
A quick Bazemore steal lead to a wrap-up foul on Collins at the rim. Collins split the free throws to tie the game back up at 65.
A 5-0 Houston run pushed it back to a five point game, before Bazemore split a pair of free throws himself and Young hit his fifth three of the night to cut it back to one.
The two teams exchanged mini-runs in the thick of the third period, with neither team being able to take control of the contest until Houston pushed the lead back to eleven with a quick 13-3 run late in the quarter. The Hawks were able to respond with four straight points to get it back to seven with this Young take to the hole before Paul pushed it back to double digits with a ridiculous and-one fading mid-range jumper.
Young was active and efficient again to start the fourth with a nice floater to get things going then three three-pointers in a three minute span later in the period to keep the Hawks close.
The visitors got as close as one in the final period, but the offense simply couldn’t get anything going down the stretch as the defense sold out on stopping Young after he erased the Rocket lead early in the final period with a slew of buckets.
Collins had relatively quiet and routine 20 points and 12 rebounds in the background of the career night by Young, logging yet another 20 and 10 game as he continues to bud into one of the league’s most consistent young bigs on the offensive end.
The Hawks made 17 threes on the evening (on 38 attempts), largely due to Young’s outburst.
Notably, James Harden’s 32-game streak of games with at least 30 points scored finally came to an end, as he only put up 28 in the contest, finishing 7 for 21 from the floor and 0 for 10 from three.
“You can’t guard James Harden one on one,” Pierce said after the game. “He’s an elite talent, elite skill...to me it’s more about the work. Make him work...he had an off shooting night...we like to attribute it to putting more pressure and flying around with effort.”
Paul added 20 points (5 for 10 from the floor, 7 of 7 from the free-throw line), eight assists and six rebounds in the victory. The veteran guard seems to be rounding in to form with back to back standout performances after battling injuries for nearly the entire season so far.
The Hawks will return home to take on Minnesota on Wednesday after a quick one-game road trip to Houston. The club’s post-Break travel schedule is a bit strange, with single-game road trips to Houston, New Orleans, and San Antonio between now and the end of the year, but they will be home a lot more than they are on the road throughout the remainder of the regular season; there are just eight road games left on the team’s schedule.