James Harden continues his hot streak as a Houston Rocket by dropping a career-high 45 points in a 109-102 win over the Atlanta Hawks Friday night.
Harden entered Friday’s game with the Rockets coming off a victory over the Detroit Pistons where he debuted with 37 points, 12 assists, six rebounds and four steals.
The Hawks struggled at times to find their offense since trading guard Joe Johnson to the Brooklyn Nets in the summer. New signee Lou Williams led the Hawks with 22 points in his debut since moving back to his hometown from the Philadelphia 76ers. Josh Smith added a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds.
James Harden proved to be too much for the Hawks to handle and had his way slicing through the Hawks defense.
Coach Larry Drew admitted that Hawks had problems with rebounding and on the defensive, which Harden exposed.
“When he gets the basketball in transition, he’s going to get to the basket,” Drew said. “It won’t be just one guy’s responsibility, it will be a team responsibility.”
Jeremy Lin mentioned that Harden makes a significant difference in when he plays at such a high level.
“He frees everybody up,” Lin said, who had 21 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. “ He knows what he’s doing. We’re thankful that he showed up.”
Harden is getting use to having the offense ran through him compared to coming off the bench in Oklahoma City where he won the Sixth Man of the Year Award.
“It’s a lot different,” Harden said. “Having the offense run basically through you, it’s a lot different, but that’s my job now so I’ve got to get used to it.”
Harden’s scoring has been the last thing on his mind since suiting up for the Rockets.
“I don’t even worry about it,” he said. “I just go out there and play hard.”
Harden’s hard work on both ends of the floor is what Rockets coach Kevin McHale appreciates about the young star.
“He’s pretty good, I’d say,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “He just kept battling and playing.”
Drew said the Hawks are searching for an identity since trading Johnson, who was averaging more than 20 points a game in five of his seasons with the team.
“We’re still trying to establish an identity,” Hawks coach Larry Drew said. “That may take a little time to do.”
In the fourth quarter the game was tied 92-92, then Harden added consecutive baskets, including a three-point play, which gave Houston a lead they never relinquished. With a 3-pointer from Chandler Parsons at the 1:55 mark pushed the lead to 100-94.
Atlanta attempted to make a comeback, even though the Rockets led the first three quarters. The Hawks cut the deficit to 81-74 at the end of the third quarter.
Smith made a basket with 7:12 left in the game and gave the Hawks their first lead since the first quarter 88-87.
“We were just trying to put together as many stops as we could,” Williams said. “We battled our way back into the game to even get it to that point.”
Harden would not allow the lead to last for long and helped pushed the Rockets to 2-0 on the young season, but McHale was not pleased on how the team closed the game out.
“We need a few days together in the gym where we can slow some things down and figure out how we want to finish games,” McHale said.
The Rockets will not have much time to in the gym to work on finishes as they prepare to play the Portland Trail Blazers Saturday.