HOUSTON — Thursday night was brutal for the Rockets. They held a 20-point lead with 8 minutes, 27 seconds to go against the Atlanta Hawks and saw it evaporate. It was an embarrassing fourth-quarter performance as Houston was beaten 113-108.
The smile worn by the Hawks’ Dwight Howard as he walked toward the visitors locker room after the game told the story of his mood.
He said it didn’t matter that his team has two victories over the third-best team in the Western Conference, but you know his teammates were happy to give him a sweep against his former team.
“It was a great win, a great team win, and we just stuck with the game plan and didn’t get discouraged when guys missed tough shots,” Howard said. “We just kept playing and got a good win against a really good team that plays great basketball at home.”
The Rockets pretty much just quit playing in the fourth quarter, giving up 40 points, and they watched as Tim Hardaway Jr. played the way his dad back in the day. Hardaway scored 23 points on 11 shots in the fourth quarter. He couldn’t be stopped. At one point, he scored 15 consecutive points.
“Hardaway went crazy, and we couldn’t stop him,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said.
Hardaway’s finishing touch came with a thunderous slam through three Rockets defenders with 41 seconds left, pushing the Hawks’ lead to three. Hardaway finished with a career-high 33 points.
“This will leave a mark,” D’Antoni said of the loss. “This is one of those that’s hard to swallow. But at the same time, it is one game and it is what it is, and we’ve got a game tomorrow, and we’ve got to find our composure and play tomorrow.”
As the Hawks were charging past the Rockets, the home team shot 4-of-17 in the final 8½ minutes of the game. During one stretch, the Rockets missed six consecutive shots.
Houston converted on only eight fourth-quarter shots, while Hardaway made eight himself. The Rockets missed 7 of 10 shots from 3-point range.
Of course, the Rockets would say this is who they are — a 3-point shooting team — and that would be acceptable, because this style of play is what advanced them to elite status in the West.
Losing a game such as this to the Hawks isn’t acceptable on any level.
“We just gave it to them,” Rockets forward Ryan Anderson said. “We missed some shots we normally make, but they had a guy that was hot and he was making everything, and we didn’t help each other out. It’s a team defensive game that we need to play, and we weren’t there to have each other’s backs in the end.”
Regardless of how the fourth quarter looked, James Harden and Clint Capela were the scorers. Harden recorded his seventh 40-plus-point game of the season. He scored 41 and had a wonderful second half. His first half was terrible, as he missed eight of 11 shots, but he took over in the second half, including one stretch in which he made eight consecutive shots.
Capela, going up against Howard, the man he backed up last season, made 9 of 11 shots and scored 22 points.
But the Rockets were hurt by the shooting of Trevor Ariza (missed 11 of 12 shots), Eric Gordon (missed 8 of 10 3s before he got going in the fourth quarter) and Anderson (missed 8 of 12 shots).
Houston took 93 shots and 51 3-pointers in the game. Those sound like obscene totals, but considering that Houston holds the NBA record for 3s made and attempted in a game, it’s quite normal for them.
Houston lost to Atlanta because of its poor fourth quarter and by shooting 37.6 percent from the field and 25.5 percent from 3.
“We just relaxed, man, honestly,” Harden said. “We did a really good job in the first three quarters, and in that fourth quarter, I don’t know what happened. We obviously didn’t make shots, defensively we were lax and we gave up easy backdoor cuts and easy layups. We didn’t follow our principles. Tim Hardaway got it going. He got confidence, and when you give anybody confidence in this league, they can get it going.
“We’ve got to bounce back. We’ve got another one tomorrow.”