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Delfino guides Rockets past Hawks

The SportsXchange

HOUSTON - Carlos Delfino's vital role as a stabilizing force continues to pay dividends.

The combination of a healthy Delfino plus superior ball-handling provided the Houston Rockets the foundation necessary to produce a 123-104 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Monday night at Toyota Center.

Delfino missed losses to the Spurs and Thunder with food poisoning. He returned with verve on New Year's Eve, producing 22 points and eight assists off the bench to help the Rockets (17-14) close 2012 with a bang.

"He played really well for us, and we needed it too," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. "Carlos just came in, moved the ball, made shots ... and he just played simple basketball. He made simple plays and it was how he plays. He lets the game come to him. He makes the right play."

After the Hawks (19-10) sliced what was once a 21-point deficit to five points on John Jenkins' 3-pointer midway through the fourth quarter, Delfino hit a 3-pointer and added a transition layup to help reestablish control.

James Harden led six Rockets in double figures with 28 points.

The Rockets compiled 30 assists, reaching that threshold for the fourth time this season. They also matched the Toyota Center record with 16 3-pointers made.

"It was all about team basketball," Delfino said. "When we share the ball, pass the ball, we find the open guy ... and we're playing together, it's much easier. We make runs and today, everybody can see it."

The Hawks lost for the first time in five games with guard Lou Williams, who paced Atlanta with 21 points, in the starting lineup. Al Horford added 18 points and 13 rebounds, while Josh Smith returned from a one-game injury hiatus (strained right hip flexor) and chipped in 17 points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots. Jenkins scored a career-high 15 points in just 24 minutes off the Atlanta bench.

Following back-to-back games with 24 turnovers in each, the Rockets committed only 11 against the Hawks, who entered the night fourth in the NBA in forcing turnovers (16.3 per game).

"You have to give credit where it's due. Houston is a very hard team for us to match up with," Hawks coach Larry Drew said. "The fact that they do such a phenomenal job, we have a hard time defending this team."

The Rockets' 16-0, second-quarter run was emblematic of their offensive approach. After Hawks forward Ivan Johnson buried an 18-foot jumper to push Atlanta ahead 31-30 with 10:06 left in the half, the Rockets responded with four 3-pointers, a Jeremy Lin pull-up jumper, and Toney Douglas' transition layup to build a 15-point advantage.

That mix of perimeter shooting and breakneck pace stunned the Hawks. The Rockets expanded their lead to 58-37 after Patrick Patterson drilled a corner 3-pointer, Lin added a three-point play and Marcus Morris dunked. Atlanta responded with some sharpshooting of its own, hitting five 3-pointers over a five-minute stretch bridging the middle periods.

But the Rockets led 64-46 at the intermission, and while the Hawks fashioned several spirited runs, the deficit was too large to overcome.

"Houston's shooting pretty much sums it up," Smith said. "They got on a streak where they couldn't miss. Delfino shot the ball extremely well."

NOTES: Turnovers had been a major problem in the previous two games for the Rockets. "We talk about it every day, every practice, every time that they jump in there and throw it to the other team," McHale said. "So, I don't know. I guess we'll keep on talking about that." ... The Hawks' four-game winning streak, which ended Monday, coincided with Williams joining the starting lineup. Williams started only 38 of 455 career games over seven seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers, and he finished second to Harden in 2011-12 Sixth Man of the Year voting. "He's been good in our starting lineup and we're going to leave him there," Drew said. "If it's not broken, we're not going to fix it."
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