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Harden's 45 points too much for Hawks in opener

Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden (13) puts up a shot as Atlanta Hawks shooting guard Kyle Korver, right, and Josh Smith, left, defend in the second half of an NBA basketball game on Friday, Nov. 2, 2012, in Atlanta. Houston won 109-102. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden (13) puts up a shot as Atlanta Hawks shooting guard Kyle Korver, right, and Josh Smith, left, defend in the second half of an NBA basketball game on Friday, Nov. 2, 2012, in Atlanta. Houston won 109-102. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

ATLANTA -- Lou Williams, brought home to supply the Atlanta Hawks with instant offense off the bench, did all he could to rally his new team on opening night.

It wasn't enough, though.

James Harden, who beat out Williams for the NBA's sixth-man award last season, was just too much as he continued to sizzle in his new role as a starter after being acquired by Houston from Oklahoma City.

Harden had 45 points Friday night against the Hawks after scoring 37 in his Rockets debut in Detroit on Wednesday and Houston defeated Atlanta 109-102 before a wowed crowd of 18,238 at Philips Arena.

Harden scored 15 of his points in the fourth quarter and they were needed as Williams provided 13 of his 22 to spark a Hawks comeback from a deficit that had reached 16 points in the third quarter.

"We didn't play well, yet we gave ourselves a chance by fighting back," Atlanta coach Larry Drew said. "But we just had too many defensive breakdowns."

The Hawks took the lead at 90-87 on six straight points by Josh Smith. But Harden scored 14 of the Rockets' final 17 points as Houston pulled away from a tie at 92.

Harden, who signed a five-year deal worth $80 million with the Rockets, showed he was worth the money by making 14 of 19 shots, including 2 of 4 from behind the arc, and going 15 of 17 from the foul line.

Williams, given a three-year contract worth nearly $16 million by the Hawks as a free agent after seven seasons in Philadelphia, led his new team in scoring as he often did with the Sixers.

After going 1-for-5 in the first half and scoring only three points, the South Gwinnett graduate was 6 of 12, including 2 of 5 from behind the arc, in the second half and finished 6 of 7 at the foul line.

Williams, who also contributed five assists, four rebounds and three steals, had six points in the third quarter before breaking out in the fourth. He just couldn't match Harden.

"Any time you give a guy the ball and let him go, he's going to get his points," Williams said. "There was no surprise. He's a good player. Everyone knows that."

Smith had 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Hawks, who were badly beaten on the boards.

Houston had a 58-36 edge as Omer Asik grabbed 19 rebounds -- nine on the offensive end. Asik didn't score a point, but his offense wasn't needed. Jeremy Lin backed Harden with 21 points and added 10 rebounds and seven assists.

"We didn't match their intensity," Williams said. "We have to play all the time like we did late in the third quarter and in the fourth quarter."

The crowd gave Williams a warm homecoming welcome, yelling out a prolonged "Lou!" when he was introduced and again when he entered the game for the first time with 4:07 left in the first quarter.

Despite the late entry, his 30:38 of playing time was third on the team behind only Smith and Al Horford. Williams played all of the fourth quarter.

Williams became the first reserve to lead his team in scoring since Dell Curry of Charlotte in 1993-94 when he averaged 14.9 points for Philadelphia last season.

The Rockets led 49-35 before the Hawks cut the deficit to 53-44 at intermission thanks to DeShawn Stevenson's 3-pointer at the buzzer. Harden scored 17 first-half points and Houston out-rebounding the Hawks 34-20 as Asik grabbed 12.

Williams is just one of the many new players on the Hawks. Danny Ferry was brought in as general manager to remake the team and built for the future despite five straight playoff appearances.

Gone is Joe Johnson and his big contract. Also gone is the Hawks' slow-paced offense. The team promises to run and run. With Williams and Devin Harris joining Jeff Teague in the backcourt, that is now possible.

But the Hawks have to rebound and defend. They didn't do either well in the opener.

"We're going to have to role our sleeves up and just get better," Drew said. "We're still trying to establish an identity."