Atlanta Hawks: Rockets 95, Hawks 84
Houston–The Hawks say they expected the Rockets to come out firing even though they were playing their third game in as many nights and despite the travel headaches upon their return to Houston. “That always happens, when a team is wall and you find out what they are about,” Al Horford said. “This team came out right off the bat they jumped quick on us and were never really able to recover from the fist quarter.”
- So if the Hawks weren’t caught flat-footed, it means their first game against an opponent with a variety of talented offensive players and good execution showed their defense still has a ways to go. Or maybe it’s also that they don’t match up well with a team that can spread the floor, dribble penetrate, share the ball and make shots–and do all of that with speed.
- “They pushed the tempo on us and we didn’t seem to have any defensive energy,” Tracy McGrady said. “We let Kyle Lowry push the ball up and find shooters. [Luis] Scola was playing well. You’ve got Kevin Martin hitting threes from all over the place. Chase Budinger is there in the corner. I thought they would have tired legs, but they came in and played well. You’ve got to give them credit.”
- The Rockets immediately took it to the Hawks. Only foul trouble for Scola, Larry Drew’s zone defense and their inevitable weary legs late slowed them down. It certainly wasn’t Atlanta’s D.
- “They played their third game in three nights and came out and played at a higher level than we did,” Drew said. “I told the guys that is totally unacceptable.”
- In the first period Houston scored 22 points in the paint and recorded assists on eight of its 13-field goals. Atlanta offered little resistance at the basket and struggled to create anything but jump shots. By the time they did more of both the Rockets were on their way to the W.
- There was some of the same “they just made shots” refrain from the Hawks but the energy, rotations and close-outs looked lackluster to me. There has been a gradual deterioration in all those areas since the first game, and the Hawks ran up against an opponent good enough to exploit them.
- “We didn’t fly around and contest like we did the first couple games, particularly the first game,” Drew said. “We reverted back to short closeouts and not getting out there with a sense of urgency. With our theory as far as closeouts you have got to make them put the ball on the floor. We did not do that.”
- The contrast between Lowry and Jeff Teague was clear tonight. Both players are surrounded by offensive talent but only one of them got his teammates going. “I hope my young guy can take a look at that and see how you can impact the game and not score points,” Drew said. “Sometimes scoring can be overrrated. Good point guards still find a way to impact the game irregardless if they score.”
- Of course, it helps that Lowry’s teammates know their strengths and weaknesses and play to them. Luis Scola took it to Horford, who was cross-matched, with nifty moves around the basket and fired up Js within his range and only when open. Martin, who was off to a slow start this season, came off screens for clean looks or spotted up and waited Lowry’s kick-outs. Budinger spotted up for 3s or used his athleticism to clean up around the basket. Houston’s spacing and crispness were superb.
- Josh Smith had another erratic offensive night. There were missed Js, wayward drives to the basket, strong scores at the rim and eight-free throw attempts (but he only made four). For the second night in a row Josh and Al saw an opposing big dominate the boards–carer-high 15 rebounds for Jordan Hill, who ain’t exactly Kris Humphries.
- I thought Marvin Williams was solid again but he played just 21 minutes (McGrady’s strong night had something to do with that, too). He started 3 for 3 while his teammates were 0 for 5.
- Joe Johnson never consistently bullied Martin on the block the way you would expect. There’s no way he shouldn’t get to the free-throw line in that matchup. A night after Joe seemed to relish schooling MarShon Brooks he let K-Mart get the best of him.
- Jason Collins’ debut didn’t go well. This wasn’t the kind of game where he could be effective. Houston ratcheted up its assault on the rim during his time on the floor. Zaza Pachulia also found it difficult to do his thing with the furious pace. Vladimir Radmanovic (0 for 5) looked a bit out of sorts again.
- Interesting, though, that the plus-minus numbers show that the bench guys held their own while the starters got drilled.
- McGrady, back in Houston for just the second time since he left, helped lead Atlanta’s brief rally in the fourth quarter. The boos grew louder as he played better. “It is what it is,” he said. “I don’t give a [bleep] about that. I am used to it. It was [also] Toronto and then Orlando. Who cares.”
- McGrady’s rebounding adds a valuable dimension to the Hawks. He’s going to get some against opposing second units.
- The Hawks are at Miami on Monday and at Chicago on Tuesday. A three-game losing streak after the 3-0 start is a real possibility.
- “It’s a challenge for our team to see how we care going to compete,” T-Mac said. “Are we going to crawl back and be pouting about this loss? Or are we going to come out and compete against the Eastern Conference champs on Monday? If we want to go and be mentioned in the same breath as Miami or Chicago, we have got to go do something.”
- Happy New Year, blog people. Peace and prosperity to you and yours.
Michael Cunningham, Hawks beat