How many times did we see this on Saturday? (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Last night in Miami was a familiar recipe for the Atlanta Hawks. Get down early, make a spirited comeback, and then fold at the end due to a lack of execution down the stretch. I wrote in the game preview that the Hawks had no reason to come out tight. Even with Joe Johnson in the lineup they would be considered underdogs in a game in Miami. To say the least I didn't like the team's approach. Atlanta came out tentative and settling for a variety of jump shots. Even the Hawks resident superhero Al Horford was reluctant to put the ball on the floor and drive his way to the hoop. The motion offense looked like it repeatedly broke down in the first half as the Hawks failed to establish any sort of rhythm on offense in trailing 26-15 after one period of play.
The second quarter wasn't much better for Atlanta but they were able to prevent themselves from being blown out of the game. Miami outscored Atlanta 24-21 in the second but as I pointed out in the game thread, the Hawks were lucky to only be down 14 at the half. Miami shot 54% in the first half while the Hawks shot 34%. Al Horford went to the bench early with two fouls and ended up with six points on 3-4 shooting in the first half. More on his playing time in a bit but Atlanta could have used a little more assertiveness from Horford in that first half.
For whatever reason, Atlanta seemed to relax coming out of halftime and went to work on Miami. Horford came out anything but passive in the third scoring at will inside and out. The Hawks dug in defensively led by new acquisition Damien Wilkins who was very physical in defending LeBron James. That seemed to spark the rest of the team as Atlanta outscored the Heat by twelve in the quarter 25-13 and cut the lead down to just two. It is at this point that I want to talk about Horford's minutes. I am not going to get into the merits of the two foul rule as I have stated before that I understand the strategy but don't necessarily agree with it. Horford didn't start the fourth quarter either and as the quarter opened the camera was on him and he did look winded. Ok fine but, Atlanta called a time out at the 9:32 mark of the fourth quarter and yet there was still no Al. In fact by the time Horford did make it to the scorers table there was several more trips up and down had been made. Horford finished with 31 minutes on the night and four fouls. He attempted eleven shots of which he hit ten. He grabbed nine rebounds in those 31 minutes. Basically with Johnson out (and maybe with him in) Horford is Atlanta's best and most consistent player and we can't win games against good teams with him playing so few minutes. In fact no starter played more than 34 minutes in this one. I understand the reasoning as coach Drew has trusted his bench throughout the season but this was a two point game at two different times in the fourth quarter and the opportunity to steal a marquee win was there.
Essentially the fourth quarter saw the Hawks roll back to the way they looked in the first half. It was hard to tell what they were trying to accomplish on offense particularly with Horford out of the lineup. Once Al did get back in he only was able to get up one shot of which he of course made. The fourth broke down into long jump shots and turnovers for Atlanta and led to them ultimately falling by a final of 89-77.
The final score is less indicative of how close this game actually was. The Hawks attempted eight more field goals than the Heat while shooting 40% from the floor. Conversely the Heat made 47% of their shots. Rebounding was close with Miami holding a 43-38 edge in that category. As a team the Hawks turned the ball over 13 times while the Heat turned it over 10 times. The real difference came at the free throw line where Miami was 18-23 and the Hawks were 8-12. A complained throughout about the lack of calls the Hawks received when going to the basket but in reality they too often settled for jump shots. Many times when they did goto the hole they looked to avoid contact rather than to play physical and get to the free throw line.
Individually Horford led the way with 22 points and 9 rebounds. The peaks and valleys that is Josh Smith continued with an 11 point 4-12 shooting night with only four rebounds. Josh was a team worst -18 for the night in +/-. Mike Bibby tossed in 10 points and dished out 6 assists. Josh Powell continued his hot shooting scoring 12 points but as Jason pointed out in the initial reaction appeared to be a liability on the defensive end of the court. Then there is Jamal Crawford who looked like he tried to take things into his own hands down the stretch. The results were mixed with a globetrotter like highlight on a lay up but overall the Hawks need much more from him. Jamal scored 12 points but hit only 6-16 from field including 0-5 from three point range. Miami got 14 points from players not named James, Wade, or Bosh.
In summary a lot of the same problems that the team had with Joe Johnson on the court are still there. Games like this remind you that the motion offense is still a work in progress. The players may know it but now the challenge is trusting it and getting the ball to the right player at key points in the game. The Hawks are back at it on Monday as they visit Orlando to take on the Magic.