What a defensive performance by the Atlanta Hawks last night against the Houston Rockets at Philips Arena. The Rockets came into this game ranked third in the NBA in points per game at 105.8, but last night they got nowhere close to that mark. Atlanta’s defense managed to hold the Houston offense to only 80 points in one of the worst performances on the season for the Rockets’ offense. James Harden, who had scored at least 37 points over the last three games, could not even reach 30 points as he finished with a solid 25 points on 6-for-14 from the field in a performance that just wasn’t good enough to get the win. Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer‘s defensive game plan and the execution of that game plan by the players proved to be the difference in the game.
Coach Bud’s goals going into the game were to create pressure on the ball at all times in order to force turnovers and to not allow the Rockets to get many second chance opportunities on the offensive glass. The Hawks managed to achieve both of those goals and executed the game plan to perfection. The high pressure on the ball wreaked havoc on the Rockets’ offense all game as the Hawks were able to force 16 turnovers which led to instant offense on the other end of the court. Those 16 turnovers may not sound like much, but when you also record an impressive nine steals in the game this just proves how much pressure and chaos the Hawks caused defensively. One player who may not show up on the stat sheet but deserves some attention for the effort he gave last night is DeMarre Carroll. His intensity on the defensive end really forced Harden and anyone else he guarded into some tough shots.
Going into the game, Atlanta also wanted to limit Houston to only one shot and not allow them to get many second chance opportunities. The Rockets are a great rebounding team due to the presence of Dwight Howard and others down low, but where Howard can kill you is with his ability to grab offensive rebounds which usually lead to easy put-back dunks. The Hawks made it a point of emphasis to not allow these second chances, and they delivered with their execution. Atlanta managed to hold a bigger and better rebounding team to only 10 offensive rebounds in a spectacular performance on the boards. One player who deserves a lot of credit for the work he did on the low block is Elton Brand. Brand came off the bench and dominated the Rockets inside by grabbing a remarkable 11 rebounds in a great performance. His ability to grab rebounds in order to prevent second chances for the Rockets really was the difference in the game.