Harden-Less Houston Rockets Get Edged By Atlanta Hawks 104-96

Wow!  What a Sunday matinee that Houston Rockets fans were treated to!

It was a battle of two arguably top MVP candidates between LeBron James who has been deemed as the King and James Harden who is next in line for that coronation.

That’s going to be a beautiful ceremony when LeBron does relinquish that title!

Hell, I think he did with the way he shot his free throws!

3-for-11?!? Really?

I thought this was professional basketball but maybe that concept was one that he missed.

He has never been a great free throw shooter but that was just awful but it definitely worked to Rockets’ advantage.

But as these two guys tussled, you could almost hear their blood boil full of emotion with each alternating possession, including a key one.

In the third quarter, Harden was accused of giving LeBron a direct shot the pills as they were both were going for the ball, causing a light melee between he, James, Trevor Ariza, Corey Brewer and Tristan Thompson.

Harden was suspended by the NBA for one game after the league deemed his actions strong enough for a punishment.

So the Rockets, now without Harden, had to figure how to win tonight’s game versus the Eastern Conference-leading Atlanta Hawks.

This team certainly stepped it up big time in his stead.

They could’ve just rolled over and let the Hawks destroy them but they didn’t.

Mar 3, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Houston Rockets forward Terrence Jones (6) dunks against the Atlanta Hawks in the second quarter at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

But whenever things weren’t quite going the Rockets way, I tended to think about what would’ve happened had the Beard  been in uniform.

But as well as the Rockets played in the 1st half, I didn’t really have to worry about that.

Things were tight in the 1st quarter until about the 6:13 mark where the Rockets were able grind out a 16-0 run starting out with a Patrick Beverley three, culminating with a Brew alley-oop dunk assisted by J-Smoove.

At that point, the Rockets led 31-17 with 1:45 left in the 1st.

After Dennis Schroder hit a jumper on the drive followed by an Pero Antic three-pointer, the Rockets still were in control 31-22 at the end of the 1st.

It was more of the same for the 2nd quarter, with the Rockets leading by as much as 17 points with 2:42 left after a Jason Terry three.

At the half, the Rockets led the Hawks 59-45, putting out an inspiring effort against a very good team.

As for the third, the Rockets got a bit lackadaisical on defense and allowed the Hawks to start knocking on the door again.

They closed within four points after series of runs they undertook after a Schroder pull-up with 3:06 left.  Rockets 74, Hawks 70

But J-Smoove got hot late in the quarter along with the Jet to ensure the Rockets were still on top at the end of the third, 81-72.

He hit a beautiful three at the top-of-the-arc that was nothing but net that was severely chided by the ATL home crowd!

Through three quarters, the Rockets were still looking quite decent!

But it was the 4th quarter where the bottom fell out.

Mar 3, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks guard Jeff Teague (0) is defended by Houston Rockets guard Patrick Beverley (2) in the first quarter at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

After a 15-0 run that occurred at the midpoint of the quarter, the Hawks took the lead for the first time since they were up 12-10 with 7:46 left in the 1st quarter.

This was capped off with a Jeff Teague three-pointer and Paul Millsap reverse layup with 4:02 left in the 4th.

The Rockets fought back after Donatas Motiejunas hit a three to tie the game at 93-all with 3:24 left.

It became a shootout of sorts as DeMarre Carroll was able to sink a three, countered by an Ariza three to tie it back up at 96 a piece.

But after a Al Horford jumper with 1:46 left, the Rockets went scoreless making Ariza’s three-pointer their last bucket of the game.

TJones had an opportunity to tie the game after being fouled by Carroll, but missed both free throws allowing Millsap, Teague and Schroder to put the game away at the free throw line.  Final Score: Hawks 104, Rockets 96

The Rockets only managed 15 points in the 4th quarter as it seemed as if they lost focus on the task at hand down the stretch.

This would’ve been a nice win to make the Beard proud and let the rest of the league know that this team could knuckle down, concentrate and win one without him.

They were close to doing that; but, as you know, that only counts in horseshoes and hand-grenades.

The Jet led all Rockets scorers with 21 points off the bench, TJones had 18/8, D-Mo had 14/8 and doled out seven assists.

J-Smoove came up big as well, playing on both ends of the floor, hitting big shots and having a stat line of 14/7 and two blocks.

Teague led the Hawks with 25 points, six assists.

It was a valiant effort by the Rockets but it’s time to press on to take on the Memphis Grizzlies, who are 1.5 games up over the Rockets in the West standings.

They’ll fly back home to face them at Toyota Center and tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.

The game will be televised on ROOT Sports Southwest and broadcast on SportsTalk 790 AM (KBME).

Go Rockets!