The Hawks battled the Heat for the full 48 minutes, but in the end, their missed opportunities came back to haunt them, losing 95-89. The game was tied at 25 after the first quarter, and the Hawks took a 46-42 lead into halftime. The biggest story of the first half for the Hawks was the performance of Anthony Morrow in his first action in the Highlight Factory (he played, and well, in OKC). Morrow had 12 first half points on 5-of-9 shooting, and provided a big spark for the second unit. Josh Smith was second to Morrow with nine in the half, but he was a dismal 4-for-13 from the field in the half. Ray Allen helped keep the Heat in the game in the first half scoring 11 points including a few timely threes.
The third quarter saw more of the same as each team made runs at each other, with the Heat getting the edge in the quarter and took a 72-71 lead into the fourth. Rashard Lewis and Mario Chalmers each had seven in the third, and gave the Heat a lift with LeBron on the bench. Miami pushed ahead in the fourth quarter, taking an 82-73 lead with 7:53 to play. The Hawks rallied back behind some great play from Jeff Teague, who scored eight in the quarter including back-to-back threes, one that answered a Chalmers three and another on the next possession to tie the game.
The Hawks took the lead on the next possession on an Al Horford driving lay-up and had seized the momentum of the game. This was the fourth time in the first four games (if you’re bad at math that’s each game) that the Hawks have comeback in the fourth quarter to take a lead. The Hawks were gifted an air-ball by Ray Allen from the corner, but Kyle Korver failed to convert a lay-up and then, in one of the oddest sequences I’ve seen, grabbed the loose ball on the rebound near the Heat bench (after two or three guys missed it), picked it up, and then “fell” out of bounds without being granted a timeout or given a foul. My view was obstructed slightly, but it looked as though he was pushed (Kyle reacted as though he was), and Larry Drew talked about that play post-game.
“I thought that he had the ball in front of their bench, and to me it did not look like he was falling out of bounds. I thought there might have been some contact, but the refs didn’t think so. That was just one play and it didn’t decide the game.”
The Hawks failed to convert on a number of fourth quarter opportunities, with three that stick out. First was the Kyle fast-break fiasco that should have been a lay-up and then should have been a foul or timeout and Hawks ball. Second was Josh Smith’s woeful free throw attempts to tie the game when they were down 89-91, and third was their alley-oop attempt from Josh to Al Horford that Chris Bosh defended well. While Atlanta lost and struggled to convert down the stretch, they got good looks and did not let their foot off the gas when trying to close out (something Hawks fans knew all too well in the past), they just couldn’t get their shots to fall.
“As I said, going down the stretch you have to make plays, and we didn’t make enough plays and they did,” said Drew. “We got some good looks, particularly out of our timeouts and they just didn’t drop for us.”
After Smith missed the free throws with 1:05 to play, the Heat took the ball down the floor and turned the ball over giving the Hawks another chance. Drew took a timeout to set up a play, and the Hawks tried to throw the ball to Al Horford on a quick alley-oop because Bosh was fronting him. Smoove threw the lob, but the play was disrupted by Bosh, and the Hawks failed to grab the loose ball after the miss. Horford, who finished with 10 points and seven boards, described what happened on the final alley-oop attempt.
“Bosh slightly touched the ball and affected it. I was already in the air trying to grab the ball and put it in, but he did a good job of putting his hands up so he disrupted that play. That was a big difference.”
After the failed alley-oop, the Heat put the ball in LeBron’s hands to ice the game, already up two. James dribbled left against DeShawn Stevenson, shoved him (not one of his patented drop the shoulder could be a foul, but maybe not; a blatant shove with the left hand), stepped-back, and hit a 20 foot jumper with 13.6 seconds to play. The Hawks failed to score again, and some Heat free throws finished the game off.
While the free throw totals were identical (16 each), the officiating was a definite question mark throughout the game, and really magnified in the final minutes with the Korver play and LeBron’s final shot. After the game, Josh wouldn’t bite on questions about the officiating.
“You’re not going to get me fined. You’re not going to get me fined. I’m not going to say anything about the referees; they did a pretty good job tonight.”
While the loss was disappointing, the Hawks are taking some positives away from it. Their defense was probably slightly above-average considering the opponent. The Hawks did have breakdowns that allowed the Heat to score 40 points in the paint, but, overall, played close man-defense and forced the Heat into a number of difficult shots (they made a number of them). Second, the Hawks continue to be a solid rebounding team, matching the Heat with 36 rebounds and allowed just nine second-chance points. The front line has been much stronger on the glass, and the perimeter players are doing a better job putting a body on somebody and keeping the long rebounds to a minimum. Finally, the Hawks lost this game by six, and had a lead in the fourth quarter despite finishing poorly on the break, and having one of the worst offensive performances possible from three of their better scorers. Lou Williams, Josh Smith, and DeShawn Stevenson combined for 18 points on 7-of-32 shooting (1-of-10 from 3). As Jeff Teague said, “That’s probably never going to happen again.”
Josh's performance was frustrating and disappointing, and he knew it. After the game, Josh owned up to his poor night and said he needs to get better, but that the Hawks are on the right track.
"I have to be better offensively for this ball club as a leader. I have to be more efficient, I have to be better at the free throw line, and I apologized to my teammates because that was just a poor effort offensively by me...I got a little frustrated because I thought they were fouls, but they weren't being called; I just have to keep my head on those plays...I've got to settle down and play the way I know I'm capable of playing...From a team standpoint I like what we did. We fought back against a great Miami team. We're gonna be good. I'm going to be better, and we just have to be more efficient. We've just been fighting, sharing the basketball. Numerous guys that normally have good games offensively didn't have good games and we were still in the ball game so that's a positive we can take."
Also on the bright side are the performances by Teague (22 points and 11 dimes) and Morrow (17 points). Teague missed most of the first half due to foul trouble (two questionable calls), but played great down the stretch both facilitating shooters and bigs, and playing aggressively and scoring. Morrow showed why fans have been clamoring for his presence in the lineup on the offensive end, lighting it up from outside and showing a nice touch from the mid-range and on floaters. Morrow’s defense was spotty and he was really taken advantage of by the bigger Rashard Lewis in the third quarter (Morrow was tight on him, but the height advantage negated his shot contests). I expect Morrow to see more action against teams that play a lot of wings, but don’t expect this performance to change Drew’s rotation drastically against power teams that would take advantage of Morrow’s size.
The Hawks will try and take the positives from this game and move forward on their West Coast road-trip, but, as Anthony Morrow said after the game, “this team is not looking for moral victories.” Next time the Hawks face the Heat, they will be looking for the W on the scoreboard, and after this performance, I believe they can do it.