Bill Baptist/Getty Images
February 3, 2017
The Atlanta Hawks outscored the Houston Rockets 40-22 in the fourth quarter to come from behind and earn a 113-108 road victory Thursday night.
Dwight Howard in particular will savor the win, since it was his first game back at the Toyota Center. The Hawks and Rockets played each other earlier in the year, with Atlanta earning a 112-97 victory on Nov. 5.
“There was never any love lost for this city,” Howard said of his return before the game, per ESPN.com’s Calvin Watkins. “It’s just the business of basketball. I’m in a great place; this team is in a great place, but if I do get a couple of boos, I will respect it and I understand it and you got to move forward.”
According to the Houston Chronicle‘s Jonathan Feigen, the reaction to Howard’s pregame introduction was somewhat muted, with many fans still outside the arena as a result of Super Bowl LI-related traffic congestion.
Individually, Howard had a big night, scoring 24 points and grabbing 23 rebounds. His pair of dunks early in the first quarter set the tone.
The night belonged to Tim Hardaway Jr., though. Twenty-three of Hardaway’s 33 points came in the fourth quarter as he was almost single-handedly responsible for Atlanta’s comeback. His thunderous right-handed jam with 41.8 seconds remaining put the stamp on Atlanta’s win:
The Starters‘ Tas Melas thought the situation was ripe for a pun:
Tas Melas @TasMelas
The Hawks didn’t make it easy on themselves getting down big— they did it … the Hardaway.
2/3/2017, 3:24:41 AM
Houston wasted a 41-point night from James Harden, who also finished with eight rebounds and eight assists.
The Rockets were lucky to lead by three points, 50-47, at the half. Harden shot 3-of-11 through the first two quarters, while Houston connected on three of its 26 three-point attempts as a team.
Nobody struggled more than Eric Gordon, who missed his first seven attempts from deep, the timing of which was ironic, according to Watkins on Twitter:
Calvin Watkins @calvinwatkins
Gordon, who was selected for the 3-point shootout, is now 0-6 tonight.
2/3/2017, 2:34:33 AM
Harden took over to start the third quarter, scoring the Rockets’ first 12 points of the second half. The NBA shared a replay of the five-time All-Star knocking down a three-pointer to put Houston up 54-49 at the 11:12 mark of the third quarter:
Harden comes out hot to start the half! 12 points in nearly 2 minutes on @NBAonTNT. #NBARapidReplay https://t.co/BjevJM0w4Z
2/3/2017, 2:23:48 AM
In addition to his scoring, Harden set the table for his teammates. The NBA shared a replay of him threading the needle to feed Gordon for an assist with 2:25 remaining in the third quarter:
After Houston’s lead grew to 13 points, 86-73, heading into the final quarter, the Hawks’ Twitter account acknowledged the Hawks had no answer for Harden:
Atlanta Hawks @ATLHawks
That James Harden guy is pretty good. So here we are… https://t.co/5mG3jLYOaI
2/3/2017, 2:48:08 AM
The Rockets were up by 20 points, 97-77, with 8:26 left in the game before Atlanta slowly ate into the deficit. The Hawks went on a 19-4 run over the next three-and-a-half minutes to trim the gap to five points, 101-96.
Hardaway connected on a three-pointer to bring the Hawks to within two points, and he gave Atlanta a 107-106 lead with 2:25 remaining after making a layup and hitting a free throw after a foul on Clint Capela.
SB Nation’s The Dream Shake could be forgiven for feeling like the Hawks hadn’t missed a shot all quarter:
The Dream Shake @DreamShakeSBN
Atlanta has scored on their last 72 possessions (all stats approximate).
2/3/2017, 3:10:19 AM
While the Rockets defense evaporated in the fourth quarter, their offense dried up as well. After Harden made the second of three free throws, Houston scored two points in the final 4:03 of the game.
The Rockets had relied on Harden throughout the game, and that came back to bite them in the final frame. With Atlanta blanketing Harden, Houston’s supporting cast couldn’t pick up the slack. Gordon, Trevor Ariza and Ryan Anderson combined to shoot 6-of-29 from three-point range.
Ariza had a chance to tie the game with six seconds left, but his three-point attempt was well short.
The Rockets won’t have much time to dwell on the loss. They welcome the Chicago Bulls to town Friday night. Chicago has won its last two games, the last of which was a 28-point victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder. If Houston has similar problems offensively against the Bulls, then it may cede more ground to the Los Angeles Clippers for the third seed in the West.
The Hawks will head to Atlanta for a three-game homestand that begins with the Orlando Magic on Saturday.
The Washington Wizards also prevailed Thursday, so the Hawks remain a half-game back of the fourth seed in the East. The Magic game will be a good opportunity for them to potentially overtake Washington this weekend.
NBA on TNT shared Hardaway’s postgame interview with David Aldridge:
NBA on TNT @NBAonTNT
Tim Hardaway Jr. caught up with our @daldridgetnt after posting a career-high 33 Pts in comeback win over the Rockets! https://t.co/tZhykvQNMe
2/3/2017, 3:29:50 AM
Hardaway deflected credit, instead highlighting the performance of DeAndre Bembry, per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s Chris Vivlamore: “What was working was [Bembry]. You have to give him all the credit. A rookie, he was very special for us tonight. Taking the challenge of guarding possibly the MVP of the season. It’s a hard task. He stayed disciplined throughout the entire game, learned from his mistakes and didn’t make the mistakes when it was key in the game. You have to give him all the credit.”
Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni thought his team took its foot off the gas in the fourth quarter, per Feigen: “Once you turn it off, like ‘OK, we won’—we thought we won—you can’t turn it back on. We really messed up royally. Tough to swallow.”