The Miami Heat were 5-0, averaging 110 points per game, had LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and had an early 20-10 lead over the visiting Atlanta Hawks.
As the Heat were easily getting to the basket and the Hawks not particularly interested in rebounding or shooting anything near the basket, and Josh Smith was launching jumper after jumper, it would be easy to extrapolate that the Heat were going to have a relatively easy time with the Hawks and that this was going to be "one of those games" for Hawks fans to endure.
But as the starters came out, the team settled down, the Hawks mixed in a lot of zone defense, and began to move the ball offensively, and the result was a turnaround that led the Hawks to a 90-72 advantage the rest of the way to victory.
In the fourth quarter, the Hawks clicked off runs of 15-3 and 8-1 in a stunning 33-21 beatdown in the game's deciding quarter. In doing so, they never let Wade (4-17, 12 points, 2 second half assists) or James get control of the pace and momentum of the game, forcing the Heat to try and do it the Hawks' way, which failed.
Don't get it twisted that this was all about the bench bailing the starters out. Yes, when Zaza Pachulia, Tracy McGrady, and Vladmir Radmanovic all came in at the same time, things did level out for the Hawks. But when Jeff Teague and Joe Johnson came out for Willie Green and Jannero Pargo, the Heat regained their earlier advantage.
However the flow of the game had changed from an up and down the court, fast paced contest to the Hawks grindfest pace, resulting in the Heat's fewest possessions this season, 91. When Teague, fresh off a pre-game role clarification, and Johnson got back into the game, they helped the team go on a 17-4 run and get the halftime deficit down to three.
The Hawks made up ground against the Heat when they did three things consistently: Defensively rebound, close out on shooters, and worked the ball from side to side on offense.
The Hawks have really good offensive players who are made a lot better when they move the ball and cut. Before this game, the Hawks had run "cut" plays, as defined by Synergy Sports, 26 times in four games. Monday night the Hawks ran cut plays 13 times, an example of their more motivated movement.
The Hawks penetration and ball movement allowed the Hawks to shoot eight of 11 from three point range on plays defined as "spot up". To put that efficiency in the proper framework, the Hawks missed their other five three when they came from not as productive methods.
After Josh launched those jump shots (made his first, missed the next six), he settled down and down the stretch provided two key plays to the Hawks' win.
The first was coming out of a timeout with about three minutes left in the game and the Hawks up by four. Larry Drew called for a alley-oop play to Smith that saw Teague hand off to Joe, who tossed to T-Mac who lobbed it to Josh for the finish. To make the play, Smith had to race from the three point line and then go up for the pass from McGrady. The play put the Hawks up six and set up Josh's next contribution to the effort.
The Heat came down and after Wade ran baseline and had nothing, the ball ended up in the hands of LeBron, who drove down the lane to hopefully convert the rimshot or get fouled doing it. What he found was Smith swatting his shot down off the backboard. Seconds later, McGrady hit a three and you could see the Heat fans heading for the exits.
We'll say it again, if you wonder if Tracy McGrady is replacing Jamal Crawford in the rotation, look no further than yet another prime example of T-Mac fulfilling the minutes pattern vacated by the former 6th Man of the Year Monday night in Miami. And while there was doubt before the season whether McGrady would even come close to doing it, through five games he may be actually be taking the role up a notch.
McGrady did all the scoring Jamal could do Monday night, as he scored 13 fourth quarter points on five shots. Where McGrady took it up a notch was in grabbing five rebounds and dishing four assists in the final quarter as well. McGrady made all three of his 3-pt attempts in the fourth quarter, including two in the last three minutes of the game to seal the deal.
As mentioned, the Hawks, after their early deficit, got active, penetrated and moved the ball and Jeff Teague was the big catalyst for that, getting to the rim for seven shots and assisting on four of those spot up threes. Teague clearly understood against the Heat what he did not against the Rockets, and the Hawks were the better team for it.
Al Horford went to work inside against one of his favorite foils, Chris Bosh, proven by his season low shot attempts outside of 10 feet, one. Horford was 6-9 for 16 points and led the team in rebounds with nine. With a little more than two minutes to go in the game, Al blocked a Dwyane Wade jump shot to add a tasty cherry to the Hawks upset sundae.
No time to celebrate as the Hawks are in Chicago Tuesday night (8:00 p.m. EST, NBATV) before coming back for a rematch of tonight's upset with Miami on Thursday night (8:00 pm EST, TNT).