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Hawks survive mid-game swoon in 119-107 win over Rockets

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Atlanta Hawks v Houston Rockets Photo by Cato Cataldo/NBAE via Getty Images

The Nate McMillan era began with five straight victories for the Atlanta Hawks and, on Tuesday, the team arrived in Texas for a favorable matchup against a Houston Rockets team entering on a 16-game losing streak. While the Hawks operated without both Clint Capela and Onyeka Okongwu — in addition to De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish and Kris Dunn — for the second straight game, the Rockets had myriad injury issues of their own, leaving Atlanta as the comfortable betting favorite at tip-off. Still, anything can happen in the NBA, and the Hawks admirably took care of business on the way to a 119-107 win for their sixth consecutive victory.

Atlanta actually stumbled, at least slightly, out of the gate, allowing the Rockets to take a 9-4 lead. That was the only real hiccup in the early going, though, as the Hawks quickly stabilized and later used a 7-0 run to take a 19-15 lead.

Trae Young generated five assists and, with the help of Danilo Gallinari’s hot shooting, the Hawks pushed that run to 20-5 overall, claiming a 32-20 lead. By the end of the first quarter, Atlanta led by 13 points, and Gallinari produced 12 points, his most in any first quarter this season.

Atlanta shot 72 percent in the opening period, and it was more of the same to start the second quarter. The Hawks opened with a 13-3 spurt to push the lead to 48-25, and that represented a 36-10 overall run dating back to the first quarter. Gallinari continued to be hot in taking advantage of Houston’s small frontcourt, and rookie big man Nathan Knight made an impact for the second consecutive game.

Houston did have a counterpunch, zooming to a 11-1 spurt to slash the margin back to 13. Right away, though, the Hawks were able to extend their advantage back to 21, thanks in part to Young’s wizardry and the team’s overall ball movement.

Houston did manage to chip away at the margin, leaving Atlanta with only a 15-point lead at the half, but the Hawks led by as many as 23 points and played quite well. It certainly helped that Houston’s available roster was shaky at best, but the Hawks shot 63 percent from the floor, 44 percent from three-point range and 93 percent at the free throw line before halftime. Gallinari scored 20 points in the first half for the second time this season, and Young reached the 10-assist mark in just 17 minutes.

At the start of the second half, the Hawks used strong ball movement to generate a three-pointer by John Collins, taking an 18-point lead as a result. The Rockets then scored eight straight points, climbing within a 10-point margin and prompting a timeout by interim head coach Nate McMillan as things seemed genuinely perilous for the first time since the opening minutes.

On cue, Tony Snell stopped the bleeding and, well, he never seems to miss.

The Rockets didn’t stop charging, though, and things became problematic for the visiting team. Houston scored 56 points in fewer than 20 minutes overall and, in over a 14-minute period, the Rockets outscored the Hawks by a 42-20 margin. That cut Atlanta’s lead from 23 down to just one at the end of the third quarter, sounding real alarm for the Hawks.

Houston finally tied the game at 97-97 early in the fourth quarter, officially completing their long climb back to even. Atlanta did respond, though, with Kevin Huerter burying a key three-pointer at the six-minute mark to put the Hawks back in front by five points.

Out of a timeout, Snell connected on a three-pointer of his own, and the Hawks began to put space between themselves and the Rockets. After a pretty ugly period of offense on both ends, Snell knocked down a dagger three-pointer with 2:34 left, giving the Hawks an 11-point lead that they would never relinquish on the way to the final 12-point margin.

Gallinari led the way with 29 points, including 20 before halftime, and both Collins (20 points, 10 rebounds, four blocks) and Young (13 points, 14 assists) contributed double-doubles. Snell converted big shots — as he has done throughout the season — and Huerter (16 points) and Knight (15 points) performed well in support.

Atlanta certainly did not put together a consistent game for 48 minutes, dominating in the early going and giving up a substantial surge to a shorthanded opponent. Still, the Hawks held the line in the fourth quarter and managed to emerge victorious, avoiding what could have been a frustrating collapse.

The Hawks now return to Atlanta to face the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday. Following that home tilt, the Hawks will begin an eight-game road trip on Saturday in Los Angeles.

Stay tuned.