Atlanta, GA (SportsNetwork.com) - The short-handed Houston Rockets gave their best Atlanta Hawks impersonation for three quarters on Tuesday.
The fourth quarter, however, showed just how valuable James Harden really is.
The Hawks rallied from 15 points down over the final 10 minutes and beat the Rockets, 104-96, to earn their fifth straight win and clinch the NBA's first playoff berth.
Jeff Teague scored 25 points, Paul Millsap finished with 16 points and 14 rebounds, and Al Horford added 18 points, including the go-ahead jumper down the stretch for the victors.
"It could've easily gone the other way fast," said Horford. "We stayed with it and kept fighting. It's a credit to our team."
The Rockets, despite being without the NBA's leading scorer in Harden, outplayed the Hawks at their own game for most of the night, using great ball movement and perimeter shooting to lead by as many as 18 at one point. Jason Terry led the way with 21 points while Terrence Jones added 18 with eight rebounds in a losing effort.
Harden was serving a one-game suspension for kicking LeBron James in the groin on Sunday. His scoring prowess were sorely needed late, as Houston saw its huge lead evaporate by shooting an ugly 3-of-17 (17.6 percent) from the field over the final 10 minutes.
The Rockets led by 87-72 after Josh Smith and Pablo Prigioni opened the fourth quarter with 3-pointers, but they made just one field goal over the next seven minutes. Atlanta's subsequent 21-3 run, fueled by seven points from Mike Scott, gave Atlanta its first lead since it was 17-15 midway through the first quarter.
It was even at 96-96 before Horford hit an 18-footer from the baseline with under two minutes to go. Horford blocked Jones at the other end, and Jones missed two critical free throws on Houston's next possession.
Millsap, Teague and Dennis Schroder each went 2-for-2 from the foul line in the final minute to seal the comeback win.
"They came out and got us on our heels in the fourth quarter," Houston head coach Kevin McHale said.
Patrick Beverley sparked a 16-0 run in the first quarter with consecutive 3- pointers and the Rockets led 31-22 after one.
Atlanta opened the second quarter on a 10-3 spurt to pull within two, but Houston answered right back with 10 in a row, with Beverley hitting again from long range during the three-minute burst.
The Rockets shot 51.1 percent from the field in the first half and brought a 59-45 cushion into the locker room, and although the Hawks won the third quarter, Houston was still in front 81-72 heading to the fourth.
Smith and Donatas Motiejunas each scored 14 points for the Rockets, which recorded 30 assists on 39 made field goals ... Schroder netted 16 points off the Hawks' bench ... Atlanta had 17 second-chance points to Houston's three.