Somewhere between Trae Young’s crossover from hell in the first quarter and the 35-footer he drained in the fourth, the Rockets seemed to draw a conclusion that would change everything.
It looked like fun. It looked like something they could try.
So, they kept coming. From down 19 in the first half and by 17 with just 1:38 left before the fourth quarter, they found shooters, some in the most unlikely of places, and hit the Hawks with the sort of scoring barrage that they had felt through most of the night but could never entirely put them away.
More than four hours after Hawks coach Nate McMillan warned that the Rockets will “scrap for 48 minutes” they proved it, charging through a spectacular fourth-quarter surge to a 132-126 win on Monday with by far their largest comeback of the season.
“It was a hard-fought game, obviously, and the guys in the locker room are all happy for each other,” Rockets coach Stephen Silas, who stuck with the players that forged the comeback, said. “That kind of camaraderie, that kind of spirit, that kind of play-hard is something we can look back on and be like, ‘Yeah, we went and got that game.’
“A lot of things had to go our way. But as this season has been very much about our young guys and our building with these young guys, it was Dave Nwaba, it was D.J. Augustin, it was Eric Gordon who made the plays in the fourth quarter. What a team win.”
3 pointers: Takeaways from Rockets’ win over Hawks
Nwaba, Augustin and Gordon all had season highs, combining for 33 of the Rockets’ season-high 44 fourth quarter points. The Rockets’ stunning jolt of bench scoring saw Augustin drain 6 of 7 3-pointers on his way to a season-high 22 points, K.J. Martin scoring five of his 13 points in the fourth quarter and Nwaba, who had been out of the rotation for weeks, making four of five shots, scoring 10 points with six rebounds.
“I’ve been talking about putting Dave in the games for like three games,” Silas said. “I put him in the last couple games, gave him like five minutes, brought him back out. Armoni (Brooks) was kind of limping around out there. Garrison (Mathews) was struggling a little bit. So, I just threw him out there.
“When I put him out there, Young wasn’t in the game, but I knew if we needed someone to guard Young, Dave would be an option.”
The Rockets never stopped Young, who finished with 41 points and nine assists. But on top of all the sources of help they found to answer that, they saved their best for last, save one turnover and a few possessions that came close.
The comeback itself was stunning, with the Rockets going in front 121-119 with 3:31 left on Augustin’s sixth trey.
Gordon, who scored 32 points on 10 of 16 shooting, had returned minutes later to put in a 3-pointer. After Augustin scored, Gordon finished a drive and nailed another 3, giving the Rockets a 126-121 lead with 1:42 remaining. They would make 8 of 11 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, 64 percent of their shots overall.
By then, the Rockets had outscored the Hawks 38-20 in the fourth quarter. They had switched to trapping Young, and the Hawks missed four consecutive shots and a pair of Clint Capela free throws.
With the Rockets up five heading into the final minute, John Collins made one of two free throws and Gordon turned the ball over. A Young floater reduced the lead to two with 23.9 seconds remaining. But the Hawks had to foul to stop the clock.
Gordon and Augustin both drained their free throws. After Cam Reddish missed a 3-pointer, Jae’Sean Tate celebrated with a dunk-contest slam to ice a win few outside the Rockets’ corner of State Farm Arena saw coming.
“Just stay with it,” Augustin said. “It’s a long game. Like four minutes in a game is an eternity. I just tell my teammates, ‘just stick with it, this could turn around.’ When we were down big, ‘Let’s go, y’all. Keep fighting. Let’s chip away.’
“That’s what the NBA is about. Teams make runs. It’s going to happen. Just stay within yourself and anything can happen.”
What happened was shocking, but Augustin’s guidance won’t need to be repeated. As with McMillan’s pregame description of the team his Hawks would be facing, the Rockets had proved it.
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