The Hawks dug themselves into a deep hole early on against the Rockets.
In each of the first three quarters, they managed to nearly extricate themselves only to be shoved back in. In the fourth quarter, the Rockets put an end to any notion of a complete comeback and buried the Hawks.
The Rockets won a 113-84 victory over the Hawks Wednesday night at the Toyota Center with a 36-point final period that included five 3-pointers all from reserve players.
The Rockets led by 12 points in the first quarter. The Hawks trimmed the deficit to five points. The Rockets led by 14 points in the second quarter. The Hawks got as close as three points. The Rockets led by 15 points in the third quarter. The Hawks pulled to within five points.
There would be no such comeback in the fourth quarter.
“For three quarters we put ourselves in some positions where we had opportunities and we battled,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “In the fourth quarter, we weren’t able to find a way to sustain that effort and keep it close.
“You have to give them a lot of credit. They are a very good team. They understand how they want to play. They understand their system. We are still building that identity a little bit. We are still building our understanding and being able to sustain it for four quarters is something that we have to be able to do.”
The Hawks (8-8, 4-5 road) fell from the ranks of Eastern Conference teams with a better than .500 record. The Pacers and Heat remain at the top of the conference with winning records. The Hawks will search for something to be thankful for as they head to a Thanksgiving Day off on a three-game losing streak. They have lost six straight to the Rockets, including four in Houston.
The Rockets (11-5, 7-3 home) led by as many as 29 points in a game they never trailed. They have won three straight and six of their past seven games.
Paul Millsap finished with 16 points as he fought foul trouble much of the game. Al Horford and Cartier Martin each had 14 points. Jeff Teague was limited to four points.
“They just turned the intensity up a little more,” Horford said. “We had an opportunity in the third where we really cut it down but we turned the ball over, took a bad shot and they got to scoring. They kept finding ways to expand the lead. You have to give them credit.”
Aaron Brooks and Francisco Garcia each scored 21 points off the bench to lead the Rockets, who had six double-figure scorers. They shot 55 percent (43 of 78) from the field, including 52 percent (14 of 27) from 3-point range.
The Hawks played short-handed without three guards as Kyle Korver (rib contusion), Lou Williams (right knee rehabilitation) and Shelvin Mack (left ankle sprain) all remained in Atlanta.
The Rockets were short-handed too. James Harden (sore left foot) did not play. Jeremy Lin was lost in the first quarter with a right knee bruise.
The Rockets jumped out early as they shot 63 percent (12 of 19) in the opening quarter. They Hawks managed just 35 percent (7 of 20) shooting. At one point the Hawks had nine points and six personal fouls. The fouls were an issue early. Martin, subbing for Korver, picked up two fouls in the first 36 seconds. Millsap also had two first-quarter fouls.
“They really made shots,” Budenholzer said of the Rockets’ ability to push back each Hawks rally. “They’ve got a great combination of attacking the paint, attacking the rim, and then spreading out the court and finding open shooters. Tonight, I think their shooting was the biggest counter, the biggest difference. They made a lot of shots.”