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Backup guards fuel Rockets' win over Hawks

The SportsXchange

HOUSTON -- With their frontline performers succumbing to injuries, the Houston Rockets have found solace in their bench and the performances of their reserves that are best described as transformative.

Buoyed by the combination of reserve swingman Francisco Garcia and backup guard Aaron Brooks, the Houston Rockets throttled the Atlanta Hawks 113-84 Wednesday night at Toyota Center.

The Rockets (11-5) completed their fourth consecutive home game in which they never trailed as Garcia scored a season-high 21 points while Brooks also scored 21.

"Aaron has had two fantastic games here at the Toyota Center and he stays ready," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. "Cisco, I was telling him if those first few shots go everything will start really happening.

"I thought his defense in the Memphis game (Monday night) was fantastic in that fourth quarter. I thought his energy, that usually gets you going. It carried over tonight."

Houston last trailed at Toyota Center at the 3:59 mark of the first overtime period against the Toronto Raptors on Nov. 11, a game it ultimately won 110-104 in double OT.

On Wednesday, Houston played its third consecutive game without guard and leading scorer James Harden and lost its top bench scorer, guard Jeremy Lin, early in the game to a right knee contusion.

The Rockets' bench scored 67 points, more than doubling the 32 points contributed by Hawks reserves. After Atlanta spent most of the night shaving double-digit deficits, the Rockets' bench opened the fourth quarter with a burst and extended the lead to 20 points on three Brooks free throws at the 6:05 mark.

"We're a talented team," Brooks said. "A lot of guys working out that have a lot of energy and are ready to play."

The frontcourt tandem of Paul Millsap and Al Horford totaled 30 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks for the Hawks (8-8), whose backcourt was depleted by injuries to Kyle Korver and Shelvin Mack.

Playing the second half of a back-to-back and facing another Friday and Saturday against Dallas at home and on the road at Washington, the Hawks struggled to maintain the energy needed to erase the early deficit.

"I think for three quarters we put ourselves in some positions where we had some opportunities and battled," Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer said. "In the fourth quarter we weren't able to find the way to sustain that effort and keep it close."

Rockets forward Terrence Jones continued his exceptional play since joining the starting lineup, burning the Hawks twice on early perimeter pump fakes that resulted in a thunderous baseline dunk and an unimpeded driving layup.

When the Hawks remained grounded after Jones stood stationary behind the arc, he buried a 3 that pushed the lead to 14-6 at the 5:58 mark, a basket that served as the midpoint of an 11-0 Houston run.

By the close of the first period Jones and Chandler Parsons had combined for 16 points as Houston carried a 30-19 lead into the second. Atlanta guard Cartier Martin, who picked up two fouls in the opening 36 seconds of the game, singlehandedly staved off a rout by nailing four 3s in the period.

But after the Hawks closed to within 43-40 with 4:30 left in the half, Parsons and Jones combined to score the ensuing 10 points as Houston re-established its double-digit lead. The highlight of that spurt was Jones' block on defense and his alley-oop dunk seconds later, with Parsons recording the assist.

The Rockets' forward tandem scored 26 first-half points on 11-for-15 shooting, including 4-for-6 on 3s.

"They made some great shots and shot the ball well from the outside," Martin said. "They just played a great game. They got the ball and played inside-out, and we just didn't execute as well as we should have."

NOTES: With Hawks G/F Kyle Korver sidelined indefinitely due to a rib contusion suffered Tuesday night against Orlando, F Cartier Martin filled the void in the starting lineup. Martin, a Houston native, was a standout at Nimitz High School. ... The Hawks' backcourt was further depleted with the absence of Shelvin Mack (left ankle sprain) and Lou Williams, who is not participating in back-to-back games as he returns from a torn right ACL. Rookie G Dennis Schroder joined the rotation. ... The Rockets relied on their superior depth of late, with C Omer Asik providing a boost against the Grizzlies in Memphis after G Aaron Brooks carried the load against the Minnesota Timberwolves. G Jeremy Lin and F Omri Casspi remained consistent threats. "They've all really pitched in," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. "We're going to need them all year long."
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