HOUSTON (CBS HOUSTON) – This season, the Rockets have rightfully taken pride in how they’ve played defensively.

Saturday was not one of those prideful nights.

The Hawks burned the Rockets time and time again on backdoor cuts and lay-ups, shooting 60.9 percent from the field after the opening quarter and 51.2 percent from the field in the opening half to open up a 12-point lead. Houston made the Hawks work harder in the second half and fought back valiantly. However, with the Hawks winning 104-97 in the end, the night became a case of what could have been.

“(The Hawks) came out and played a lot harder than we did to start the game,” said Trevor Ariza, who finished with 13 points and two of the Rockets’ eight steals. “We weren’t into the game at all. They were doing anything they wanted to in the first half. That came back to bite us in the butt.

“If we want to give ourselves a chance, we’ve got to play harder,” Ariza added. “It goes down the line, every one of us. We have to do more to help our team win.”

That pretty much summed up Kevin McHale’s thoughts as well.

“Defensively, we were very poor in the first half,” McHale said. “We weren’t down in the stance. We weren’t ready to play. They were getting layups on us, cutting, driving. We weren’t very good defensively in the first half. We were much better defensively in the second half.”

When the Rockets did play better defense, that’s when it seemed like they made their runs on offense. That’s when things clicked.

“We started playing our brand of basketball,” James Harden said of the Rockets’ charge back in the second half that would make things neck and neck down the stretch. “If we get two halves of those, it’s an easy 15-point win by us, but we came out slow in that first half. (In the) second half, we played great, but it just wasn’t good enough.”



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