THE FACTS: Critics who said James Harden wouldn't score 37 again, as he did in his Houston Rockets debut Wednesday night were right.
Harden scored a career-high 45, including 14 of Houston's final 19 over the final 5:00 to lift the Rockets to a 109-102 victory over the Atlanta Hawks. The explosive guard, acquired from Oklahoma City six days ago and signed to a long-term extension during the week, shot a blazing 14-of-19, 2-of-4 from three and hit 15 of 17 foul shots, seven in the final 65 seconds to ice the game for the 2-0 Rockets.
Jeremy Lin perfectly complemented Harden, nearly a triple-double, with 21 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists and Marcus Morris came off the bench to add a career-high 17 points. The Rockets also dominated on the boards, holding a 58-36 edge, led by center Omer Asik, who had 19 rebounds (nine offensive, 10 defensive).
Atlanta native Lou Williams scored a team-high 22 points in his Hawks debut, and Josh Smith recorded an 18-point, 10-rebound double-double for the Hawks (0-1).
The Hawks led by six early on, but the Rockets went on a 10-3 run to take the lead and ended the quarter with another 10-2 run to take a 28-21 lead after one. The lead would grow to 16 with 6:30 remaining in the third quarter before Atlanta fought back, melting the lead to seven after three and taking the lead three-point lead with 7:00 to play. From there Harden took over.
QUOTABLE: "I don't think James needs much fire. He just likes to play. I don't think he's thinking about 'I've got stuff to prove.' I think he's thinking 'What do I have to do to help my team win?'"
-- Rockets head coach Kevin McHale.
THE STAT: Offensive rebounds: Houston 23, Atlanta 7: Houston shot a little over 42 percent, lower than Atlanta, and made two fewer field goals than the Hawks, but 23 offensive rebounds allowed the Rockets extra possessions. Asik pulled down nine of those offensive rebounds — two more than the entire Hawks team (center Zaza Pachulia had five of the seven for Atlanta).
TURNING POINT: Harden was superb at the line, making 15 of 17, yet a missed free throw turned out to be one of the game's biggest plays. He had just made a 17-footer to five the Rockets a 94-92 lead, drawing a foul on Atlanta's DeShawn Stevenson in the process. But the ensuing free-throw rolled out. Forward Patrick Patterson grabbed the rebound. Harden got the ball back, held it momentarily, then accelerated through the lane, scoring on a layup and drawing a foul from Atlanta center Al Horford. This time he made the foul shot. Houston was up 97-92 and the Hawks would get no closer than three the rest of the way.
QUOTABLE II: "This is a resilient group. You saw our youth today. We had a 14-point lead and gave it back and we kept getting leads and giving it back. Great teams don't do that but I'm just glad we stuck it out."
-- Lin on the Rockets keeping their poise late in the fourth quarter.
HOT: The Rockets' back court of Harden and Lin were virtually unstoppable in the third quarter, as the duo combined for 20 of Houston's 28 points, shooting a combined 7-9 (Harden 4-for-6, Lin 3-3), 3-for-4 from three (Harden 1-for-2, Lin, 2-for-2), and 3-for-4 from the foul line (Harden 1-for-2, Lin, 2-for-2).
NOT: Houston started the game shooting 0-for-15 from behind the arc. The Rockets didn't convert until 1:50 left in the second quarter. It turned out to be a big shot, as the three from Harden, who was fouled on the play, resulted in a four-point play, extending Houston's lead to 49-35. The Rockets turned it around, making 8 of their final 15 threes, and making one more than Atlanta for the game.
NOTABLE: Celebrities in the crowd included comedian Chris Tucker and the cast of the AMC zombie drama "The Walking Dead"...Atlanta had only six fewer second-chance points despite Houston's huge edge in offensive rebounding. Part of that was Houston's 5-for-16 shooting on second-chance opportunities to Atlanta's 4-of-5...Harden's 15-for-17 line from the free throw line matched Atlanta's exactly...The Hawks saw their streak of six straight home-opening wins come to an end with the loss...Horford, who didn't get his first shot points until the 7:09 mark of the second quarter, finished with 14 points on 6-for-10 shooting...Atlanta point Jeff Teague matched Lin with a game-high seven assists, with Houston forward Chandler Parsons dishing out six, four of them in the first quarter. Atlanta's bench outscored Houston 47-28, led by Pachulia's 13 points and eight rebounds and Stevenson's 12 points, on 4-of-6 from three...The Hawks had a 33-18 edge in fast break points.
UP NEXT: For the Rockets, Saturday vs. Portland, Wednesday vs. Denver, Friday @ Memphis. For the Hawks, Sunday @ Oklahoma City, Wednesday vs. Indiana, Friday vs. Miami.