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by: Kris Gardner, United States Basketball Writers Association member. Credentialed media member since 1997. USBWA approved online journalist. Voter of Katrina McClain, Naismith, USBWA, and Wooden awards.

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Hawks defeat Rockets, 104-97

Posted: December 20, 2014 -- 10:50 pm.

HOUSTON, TX (Toyota Center) -- The Houston Rockets almost overcame a miserable first-half defensive performance Saturday night. Almost. Though, the defense improved in the second half, the Rockets lost to the Atlanta Hawks 104-97.

"Defensively, we were very poor in the first half," said Kevin McHale after the game. "We weren't ready to play. There getting lay-ups on us: cutting and driving. We weren't very good defensively in the first half. We were much better defensively in the second half."

The Hawks (19-7) shot 60.9% (14 for 23) from the floor in the first half. Seven of the 14 baskets came off lay-ups or were within 4 feet of the hoop. The Hawks led the Rockets 32-20 after the first period. Sixteen of the Hawks' 32 points came in the paint.

The Hawks finished the first half with 26 points in the paint and led the Rockets 52-40 at halftime. Atlanta shot 51.2% (22 for 43) overall in the opening 24 minutes.

"They (Hawks) came out and played a lot harder than we did to start the game," Trevor Ariza admitted. "We didn't. We weren't into the game at all. They were doing anything they wanted to in the first half and it came back to bite us in the butt."

The Rockets (19-7) shot a miserable 29.3% (12 for 41) in the first half.

James Harden knocked down a three-point shot to begin the scoring in the third quarter which launched a 9-0 Rockets' run to trim their deficit to three points (52-49); but, once the Hawks stopped turning the ball, they went on 15-5 run for a 67-54 lead with 4:47 remaining in the third quarter.

However, the Rockets' defense began to tighten the screws on the Hawks which jump-started the Rockets' offense and led to a 20-7 run which James Harden capped off with a step back jumper to tie the game at 74 to end the third quarter.

The fourth quarter featured four ties in the first nine minutes; but, with the game tied at 90, the Hawks went on a 7-0 run over two minutes to put the game out of reach.

The Hawks finished the game shooting 51.4% (38 for 74) from the floor while the Rockets made just 39.5% (34 for 86) of their field goals. Dwight Howard scored a team-high 19 points and added 11 rebounds. James Harden scored 18 points and dished a career-high 14 assists.

"We started playing our brand of basketball," Harden said. "Second half, we played great but just not good enough."

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