1. This was the first game this season in which the Hawks were over-matched from start to finish (or, in this case, start to garbage time). It doesn’t matter how hard they play against a good team with a great player like James Harden. He’s the kind of talent the Hawks hope to acquire with all of the draft picks they’ve accumulated. In the meantime, the Hawks don’t have the horses to beat a team like the Rockets most nights and especially one with Harden in prime shot-making mode.
2. But the Hawks compounded their talent deficit by being seemingly content to get into the kind of skills showcase game preferred by Harden and the Rockets. The Hawks probably would have had a better chance if they’d made it a gritty contest from the beginning because the Rockets didn’t seem interested in that kind of game. The Hawks scrapped more in the third quarter but by then the Rockets were up for it and matched their intensity.
Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer: “It’s frustrating to be down that big and play the way we did for probably too much of the night. We will have to be different, have a different mindset going into Sunday. I didn’t feel like the competitiveness was where we needed, the activity and those kind of things. That will be something that we kind of measure ourselves. We have high standards, high expectations. I’ve got to be better, we’ve all got to be better with our competitiveness and activity from the star of the game until the end of the game.”
2. It’s no surprise that the Rockets came out firing three-pointers. It’s what they do. It’s also no shock that the Hawks fell behind big early in large part because they couldn’t guard the three-point line. Coach Mike Budenholzer tried to stop the bleeding with a quick called timeout after Eric Gordon’s second three-pointer put the Rockets up 12-6. But Houston made two more threes over their next three possessions and just kept launching them on the way to the rout.
3. In the first quarter, the Rockets shot 12 three-pointers among their 22 total field-goal attempts and made seven. The Hawks countered with 20 points in the paint but trailed 36-25. Math was working against the Hawks. They generally were successful with Budenholzer’s goal of keeping the Rockets off the line but Houston got off 47 three-point shots and made 16.
The Hawks’ plan? “Just to run them off the (three-point) line as much as possible,” Taurean Prince said. “But, like you said, they are a good team and they did a good job shooting the ball tonight.”
4. Lax transition D, another persistent problem for the Hawks, hurt them again. The Rockets play at a slow pace but found several opportunities to run against the Hawks. Houston’s 17 fast-break points in the first half were more than they’ve had in any full game this season. The Rockets finished with 28 points on fast breaks.
6. The Rockets slowed their three-point barrage a bit in the second quarter as the Hawks crowded Harden. But then he started attacking on the pick-and-roll with Clint Capela, leading to dunks for Capela and easy floaters and free throws for Harden. That’s tough to stop but I thought the Hawks allowed Harden too much space on hedges.
Kent Bazemore: “I learned a lot tonight playing against him. He plays at his own pace and he was able to find his guys and they just shoot the crap out of the ball.”
7. Bazemore (18 points on 13 shots, four assists) tried his best to get the Hawks going. He was in the attack mode that’s defined his play early in the season. The refs were allowing lots of contact in the paint and Bazemore muscled through it.
8. Dennis Schroder (16 points on 13 shots) gave it a go, too. His style is different than Harden’s but he gets to the basket just as much. It’s just that his decision-making isn’t as sharp as Harden’s, and he doesn’t have as many good teammates to set up. There’s also Schroder’s too-often casual approach to screen-roll D.
9. Bazemore got first crack at guarding Harden. But all of the Hawks got involved at different points on switches, and chasing Harden as he weaved through the defense with his herky-jerky style.
10. With Malcolm Delaney (ankle) unavailable, Tyler Dorsey got his first non-garbage time run since Oct. 23 at Miami. Dorsey had 10 points on six shots in 18 minutes but three turnovers and no assists. During a six-minute stretch of the second quarter Dorsey was on the court alongside Schroder and Isaiah Taylor.
Budenholzer: “I told Tyler before the game be ready to play. I liked his minutes, even in the first half. He made some aggressive plays. You’ve got to take advantage of your opportunities when you are given them. I think he’s had a pretty good week in practice so it was good to see Tyler play the way he did tonight.”
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