ATLANTA — Despite James Harden’s 30 point and 12 assist effort — his fourth game, out of six total games played this season, of 30 or more points and 10 or more assists in a game — the Hawks were able to play cohesively enough on both ends of the floor to defeat the Rockets 112-97 on Saturday night.
Though buoyed by an all-encompassing performance from the Hawks’ starting lineup — all five starters finished the game with double-digit points — the Hawks’ play on the defensive side of the ball was the true catalyst for the victory. The Rockets finished with a season high 25 turnovers and littered each quarter with poorly weighted lead passes down low and along the perimeter. The amalgam of poor execution on the part of Houston and the steady defensive intensity of Atlanta coalesced into an effective defensive performance.
“The discipline to keep Harden off the free throw line and the activity to still create turnovers probably puts us in a position to have a great defensive game,” Head Coach Mike Budenholzer said.
Dwight Howard put together his fourth straight double-double of the season with 20 points and 14 rebounds. Howard had four rolls to the rim that resulted in alley-oop dunks, and his presence in the paint served as a defensive anchor throughout.
In what was one of the signature plays of the game, Howard leapt up to meet the Rockets’ KJ McDaniels at the rim after the latter attempted a dunk over Howard. As Howard extended upwards, it looked, on video review, as if he got all-ball on his extension, but to no avail — it was called a foul by the referee. The crowd groaned in disapproval, finally awakening from a slumber that permeated the peanut gallery until just about this point in the match.
“Everybody makes mistakes,” said Howard on the referee’s second quarter missed call. “We miss plays, you guys misspell a word sometimes.”
Paul Millsap toyed with Nene and Ryan Anderson in the post. Millsap scored a bulk of his baskets on drives to the hoop set up by the Hawks’ selfless offense, but three baskets in particular against Nene displayed Millsap’s refined offensive post game. In an ideal coupling of hesitation moves and quick feet, Millsap knocked in three easy shots within six feet in a span of minutes against a confused and disenchanted Nene. One play in particular left Nene several feet to Millsap’s left as Millsap let his shot go, despite the fact that Millsap started his possession posted up by the elbow. Millsap finished with 23 points and 11 rebounds, a customary night for a man who is not customarily recognized for his abilities.
Kent Bazemore, after a tough first five games from the field, came into this game looking to fire up shots despite the fact that his gun hasn’t been quite as accurate as it once was. Through his first five games, Bazemore shot 27.7 percent from the field — he shot seven for 12 on Saturday night, increasing his overall field goal percentage by more than six points.
“I’m very happy with Baze,” Budenholzer said. “The shots are going to go. The offense is going to come. It’s great for him to see a bucket go.”
Bazemore utilized the corner three against the Rockets in order to get back into his shooting groove. During a minute stretch in the third quarter, Bazemore knocked down two of his three 3-pointers on the night by slyly drifting to the corner and smoothly knocking down two open threes from virtually the same spot.
“[The corner three] is a comfort zone for me,” Bazemore said. “A lot of threes I took early this season were wing threes, top of the key threes — so when you’re trying to find your rhythm you always got to go back to what you know and what feels comfortable.”
Bazemore finished the game with 20 points, four assists and four rebounds to go along with one of his signature post-game Baze gazes that interrupted Dwight Howard’s interview. Howard later described the gesture somewhat facetiously as: “the ugliest face ever.” Kyle Korver (10 points, four for six from the field) and Dennis Schroder (17 points, 12 assists) rounded out the double-digit scoring quintet.
As has stayed rather constant throughout the year, dependable defensive intensity took a plurality of the responsibility for the Hawks’ win. Even if specific players struggle, like Bazemore had been up until tonight, the team is able to combat a potential dearth in offensive production with hard work on the defensive side of the ball. Look for that mantra to hold true as the team continues to mesh, fully, into Budenholzer’s defensive philosophy.
The Hawks play next at the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday, November 8.