With how good the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, and San Antonio Spurs often are, it is hard for road teams from the East to come into Texas and expect any success. The Hawks are not an exception to that, but Atlanta grinded out a rare victory in the Lone Star state, beating the Rockets 104-97. The Hawks now sit at 19-7 and have now won 14 of their last 16 games.
Atlanta managed to pull it out in the end thanks to some nice passing and solid execution. It also helped that Jason Terry completely forgot to cover Kyle Korver during one of the game’s most crucial moments.
While the game started off close, it wasn’t like that until midway through the third quarter. The Hawks had a decently-sized lead through most of the first half thanks to crisp ball movement getting them a lot of open looks. For the majority of the game, the best the Rockets could do was go on a small run occasionally, but the Hawks would withstand it and get right back to business and build up their lead once more. That was until the Rockets adjusted.
During halftime, the Rockets made some tweaks that managed to get them back into the game, tying the game up by the end of the quarter. Part of it was the Hawks just not hitting shots, but the Rockets rotations were much more organized in the second half; when the Hawks started to move the ball, the Rockets were right there to contest the shot.
Houston’s offense also came alive in the second half. They were hitting their 3-pointers, getting to the free throw line, and scoring inside. All three factors of Morey ball were in play and the Hawks were having a hard time stopping it, needing to make some adjustments themselves just to stay a step ahead.
It was the fourth quarter that separated the two teams. A seesaw battle for most of the quarter, both teams moved the ball all over the place, two different styles, but the same goal. The Rockets were dribbling inside, forcing the defense to collapse, allowing for a string of ball movement followed by an open 3-pointer. The Hawks meanwhile would pass the ball frequently, opening up lanes to get it down low to the likes of Paul Millsap and Al Horford or an open 3-point shooter on the perimeter. Both strategies led to a lot of free throws and a lot of 3-point attempts. The Rockets took 46 3-pointers while the Hawks took 26 of their own, and both teams combined for a total of 42 free throw attempts.
What sealed the deal for Atlanta was their defense. They got some key stops and one crucial break down by the Rockets led to a wide open 3-pointer for Kyle Korver. After Korver hit that shot, Atlanta never looked back managing to win the game with free throws.
Korver was incredible tonight, he shot 7-for-12 from the field and hit four 3-pointers. When he’s hitting shots, like he was tonight, Atlanta becomes that much more difficult to defeat.
Of course, Korver wasn’t the only one that played well tonight. Horford and Millsap both played fantastic defense on Dwight Howard, only giving him 19 points and 10 shot attempts. When going up against a guy like Howard, rather than trying to stop him, the best course of action is to try and limit him and the Hawks big men did that to the best of their ability. They also helped out on the offensive end, pouring in 14 points each.
The Hawks were missing Jeff Teague for the second straight game, but nobody could tell the difference. Dennis Schröder and Shelvin Mack both stepped up, keeping the offense flowing the same as always. Schröder struggled to shoot from the field but he found other ways to contribute thanks to his passing. Mack meanwhile did his usual thing, 4-for-8 from the field and no turnovers, the ultimate game manager.
Really, the entire Hawks bench played very well. Whenever they came into the game, they would take any punches Houston threw at them and even threw some right back. Everybody had a solid game offensively, except for Kent Bazemore. The bench’s defense struggled a bit tonight but it wasn’t anything so horrible that the starting lineup had to work extra hard to make up for it.
An argument can be made that this was the Hawks best win all season. They defeated one of the better teams in the West without their starting point guard, and on the road no less. After the game, twitter was filled with tweets of “The Hawks are for real” because of how impressed everybody was. The Hawks and their fans are soaring, the only question now is how far can they fly.