Vivlamore reporting from Houston.
James Harden killed the Hawks again.
The Rockets guard scored a game-high 28 points en route to a 123-104 victory over the Hawks Monday night at the Toyota Center. It was Harden, you’ll remember, who poured in 45 points in a Rockets victory in the Hawks’ season-opener. That’s two games and 73 points.
Harden had 11 third-quarter points as the Hawks tried to come back from a 21-point deficit. It was the 13th consecutive 20-plus point game for Harden, a career-best.
“Not quite the way I wanted to finish 2012,” coach Larry Drew said. “I have to give credit where credit is due. This team is very hard for us to match up against. The fact is that they do such a phenomenal job off the dribble. We have a hard time defending this team off the dribble. They have four guys the starting lineup that can all make 3s, are all good coming off the dribble.”
The Hawks (19-10) had their four-game win streak snapped.
Lou Williams led the Hawks with 21 points. Al Horford added 18 points, including eight of the Hawks’ first 12, and 13 rebounds. Josh Smith returned after missing a game with a hip injury with 17 points. John Jenkins had 15 points, the second straight game the rookie has set a career-high in points.
The Rockets (17-14) had their two-game losing streak snapped. Carlos Delfino came off the bench with a season-high 22 points, including six 3-pointers. Jeremy Lin added 16 points. The Rockets scored a total of 48 points in the paint.
In all, the Rockets shot 55.2 percent (16 of 29) from 3-point range.
“We just had a hard time stopping them,” Kyle Korver said. “We tried a few different things on defense but they score a lot of points in transition and we didn’t get back well enough. They shot the ball extremely well. They made a lot of 3s and stretched us out and the pick-and-roll is even harder to guard. We just gave up too many things.”
The Hawks closed to within five points, 102-97, with 5:21 remaining on a Jenkins 3-pointer. Delfino then scored five straight points and Harden added a three-point play, with a shimmy following the foul, to put the game out of reach. It was part of a 21-7 Rockets’ run to end the game.
The Hawks made the run with four starters – Williams, Korver, Smith and Horford – on the bench. Drew said he briefly considered bring the unit back after the game became close.
“I was going to ride those guys because they were playing so well,” Drew said.
The Rockets built a 21-point lead in the second quarter with a 16-0 run. The streak included four 3-pointers – three straight to start the run. Drew elected not to use a timeout for the entire 3:48 that the Hawks failed to score.
“I had considered it but I chose not to do it,” Drew said of using a timeout. “I chose for our guys just to play through it. We have to get to the point where we can handle those type of situations. I had some starters in the game and there are going to be times where they are going to have to regroup without a timeout being called. At that time, I elected not to call a timeout.”
The Hawks shot just 29.4 percent (7 of 24) in the second quarter. Their one-point first-quarter lead turned into an 18-point halftime deficit of 64-46. Harden had 14 first-half points for the Rockets as Lin chipped in with 11 points and Omer Asik had 12 rebounds. Asik finished with 17 boards.
The Hawks cut deep into the Rockets lead in the third quarter and trailed by only eight points, 81-73. Williams scored 15 points in the quarter. However, the Rockets answered with a 9-0 run to regain control.
“Nights like this happen where you throw up a dud and sometimes the other team is just better than you and you have to get over it and get ready for the next one,” Williams said.
The Hawks complete a stretch of four games in four cities in five days Tuesday at New Orleans.
- Chris Vivlamore
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