Youthful and confident Rockets take down Atlanta Hawks

Atlanta Hawks 122, Houston Rockets 132

LeBron James and the Houston Rockets’ free-throw woes turned into a big win.

On a night when many were looking forward to his potential return to the city where he played his first 10 NBA seasons, the former Cavaliers star scored 31 points on 12-of-24 shooting to lift the Rockets over the Hawks, 132-126. He also had 14 rebounds, eight assists and five steals.

James’ two free throws with 12.7 seconds left in the game gave Houston its first lead since the second quarter, and he made two more to seal the victory.

“I just loved his aggressiveness. He played hard. He was aggressive,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said after the game. “They’re tough people. But we needed some pressure, and he gave us a little of that.”

Chris Paul added 24 points, seven rebounds and five assists for the Rockets, while Clint Capela added 20 points and 15 rebounds for Houston.

Atlanta Hawks 108, Houston Rockets 93

Both James Harden and Chris Paul scored 25 points to lead the Rockets to a road win.

Harden also had nine assists and three steals, and Paul added seven rebounds, seven assists and three steals. But a key stop with 15.6 seconds left on the game clock gave the Hawks a chance to get the ball back and pull within one. However, Atlanta’s Trae Young dribbled up the court and missed a long 3-pointer as time expired.

TJ Millsap led Atlanta with 22 points and 17 rebounds, and Dennis Schroder scored 20 points. John Collins, the Hawks’ rookie and first player selected in the draft in June, added 14 points and 10 rebounds.

Hawks: Atlanta coach Lloyd Pierce said that, of the 50-year-old James’ game, it was his defensive play that stood out the most.

“He defends us. You know, he made some great defensive plays on Trae Young that got us good looks at the basket on the offensive end,” Pierce said. “And he pushed off of his back more tonight. It’s like he’s boxing, that’s what he’s doing.”

Rockets: Houston fans hoping to see James finally earn a win against the Hawks may have to wait a while longer. Pierce said that he had been asked by Atlanta not to play James again, so that the Hawks did not give the Rockets life by having James on the court as a backup.

“He said I couldn’t play him again, and that’s when I decided I’m not playing James tomorrow night,” Pierce said. “There’s no reason to get caught up in the fact that he played one game against us. We’ve been playing them for a long time. We can’t go back and just do that.”

When asked about Wednesday’s game, James said: “I don’t even remember the last time we played them, but just win. That’s all I was focused on.”

What did he think about Rockets fans hoping for a win?

“Our goal is to win,” James said. “I don’t care who we’re playing, where we’re playing them or when we’re playing them.”


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