Hawks Shut Down Rockets For Second Straight Win

Friday, January 10, 2014
By Robby Kalland

Houston Rockets v Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks’ (20-17) offense struggled but their defense held the Rockets’ (23-14) offense — 4th highest scoring in the NBA coming in — to just 80 points on 41.4% shooting (31.6% from three) as the Hawks won 83-80. Atlanta’s defense forced 18 turnovers, leading to 16 points, and the Hawks as a team got 16 more shot attempts (86) than did the Rockets (70), who were never able to get in any rhythm.

Hawks vs. Rockets
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Game Recap

Paul Millsap got back on track after a few rough nights with 20 points on 8-of-18 shooting with seven rebounds, and five assists. For much of the game, the Rockets cross-matched Dwight Howard on Millsap, and Paul adjusted to use his speed by facing up on the perimeter and driving past Howard or shooting from the outside rather than trying to post him up.

Kyle Korver extended his three-point streak to 106 games on his way to 20 points, tying Millsap for the team-high, with five rebounds and three steals. Korver was 4-of-7 from three and made all four of his free throw attempts in the Hawks’ final two possessions.

Early on, the Hawks’ offense was unable to get anything going, falling behind 11-0 in the opening 5:54 of the game. Mike Scott — who finished with 14 points, three assists, two rebounds, and two steals on 7-of-10 shooting — scored Atlanta’s first basket on a hook shot with 6:06 to play in the first quarter, and Scott had eight of the Hawks’ first 10 points.

“I just took the seal off the basket,” said Scott. “Shots weren’t falling in. We just couldn’t buy one. I just had to come in with a lot of energy and fire things up.”

“Mike Scott came in and gave us a huge lift,” said Korver. ” We couldn’t get anything going. we’ve got to go back and watch the film again. There wasn’t any space for anyone to get a good shot. We’re still a work in progress without Al, but our guys kept on fighting. Different guys stepped up. We got a good win.”

The Hawks scored only 10 points in the first quarter and trailed 18-10. Scott and Shelvin Mack were the only two Hawks to score in the first quarter, as no starter scored until a Korver three-pointer 15 minutes into the game. The Hawks’ offense never truly recovered as they shot 37.2% for the game and just 28.1% from three, but their defensive effort was terrific and they got enough opportunities in transition to make up for it — 20 points on 9-of-11 shooting on the fast-break.

Atlanta took their first lead in the third quarter, when they got Millsap and Korver going for 20 combined points. Atlanta led 65-60 entering the fourth quarter, where the Rockets responded to take a 76-73 lead with three minutes to play. The Hawks tied the game with a Korver three-pointer, and after a Harden floater, the Hawks took the lead for good on a DeMarre Carroll three-pointer. 

The Rockets could only score two points in the final 2:20 of the game. Those two points came on a Jeremy Lin attempt that would have tied the game at 81 had he not had his toe on the three-point line with 6.5 seconds to play. Korver, somehow, was allowed to receive the inbound pass on the Hawks’ final two possessions when the Rockets were fouling, and he made all four free throw attempts. On the Rocket’s final possession, they were unable to get a shot off as the Hawks pressed full-court with Houston out of timeouts, forcing Howard to receive the inbound pass and he was unable to find anyone to pass to before the buzzer sounded.

This win makes the Hawks 4-4 since Horford was injured, and the team continues to find ways to keep games close. The Hawks defense has been forced to adjust and players are having to learn how to play with different lineup combinations without Horford. In the last few games, that defensive continuity has started to take great strides, and the results have been good.

“I think the group is really starting to trust each other defensively,” said Coach Bud. “The competitiveness that they’re putting out there, it starts on the defensive end of the court. There were some examples of guys tonight making rotations, making v-backs — difficult, hard situations. It’s just good to see that trust being built up. If we continue to do that, there are stretches when the offense can play off the defense and get a little bit of rhythm, and get some good looks and good opportunities.”

“It’s still a work in progress,” said Elton Brand. “Of course we miss Al on both sides, but we have to find a way. Even though we lost three in a row before winning these two in a row, we saw some good things. Golden State, we basically had that game, up big with seven minutes left and gave that one away. It’s coming along. It’s a work in progress.”

Brand — who had zero points but was terrific on defense with 11 rebounds and three blocks — and Pero Antic were tasked with defending Howard much of the night. Dwight finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds, but was limited to just 11 shot attempts. Brand spoke about the challenge of defending Howard and the focus in attacking him.

“Just had to keep him out of the deep scoring position. He’s such a load down there. He’s been working on his moves, he’s got some moves down there. You know, he didn’t get to the line a lot and attack, and it’s so tough to stop them both [Howard and Harden]. So, that was the key.”

By taking away Howard, the Hawks were able to change the Rockets’ approach. Prior to the game, Coach McHale said that they would try to get Howard involved early and often on offense. With him being kept out of his scoring zone, the entire Rockets’ offense was much less effective.

“[Their offense] changed a lot,” said Brand. “When he’s working on the inside, getting layups, getting dunks and easy baskets — alley-oops — there’s James Harden, who’s averaged 35 points a game the last three games. You have to take one away, and we took Dwight away a little more than Harden…You have to gauge [when to help on Harden drives and when to stay on Dwight]. You can’t help too much because it’s an automatic two points if he misses. Dwight Howard’s so big and athletic, he’s putting it back. So, guys like DeMarre Carroll is playing great defense, so if it looks like he’s in front of him, you use all your strength to box out Howard.”

The Hawks brutal stretch of the schedule continues as they will travel to Memphis on Sunday to take on the Grizzlies before they make their trip to London to play the Nets on the 16th.

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Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images

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