The shorthanded Atlanta Hawks put up a valiant effort in Wednesday's 89-86 loss to the Miami Heat. Some might consider the loss a moral victory after considering the team's injuries and who they are playing without while others will look at the team's many turnovers down the stretch and categorize the game as a missed opportunity. Post-game, Atlanta's Jerry Stackhouse talked about the Miami Heat "being aware" of this Hawks team should they meet in the playoffs.
"But I think that team is aware of us. We came down here early in the season [to win] and now we are competing with some main pieces out. I am pretty sure they are aware if we see them in the playoffs we are a formidable foe."
That statement is probably true but the point could have been hammered home much more forcibly had the Hawks hung on and won the game. That possible scenario will be discussed much more in the coming weeks but for now lets focus on the game.
A quick glance at the box score reveals that the Hawks turned the basketball over 22 times in the game leading to 32 points for the Heat. Look a little further and you will see a 25-9 disparity in free throws attempted and you might wonder how Atlanta was able to even remain within striking distance of Miami and I am not even going to talk about the atrocious sequence of events involving LeBron James and Zaza Pachulia that resulted in a technical foul on the Hawks.
Even after all of that, there the Hawks were in line to pull the upset after two Josh Smith free throws gave Atlanta a 65-55 lead with just four minutes to go in the third quarter. The Hawks would turn the ball over four times in their next six possessions helping spark a 13-0 Miami run to once again fall behind 68-65 with 52 seconds remaining in the third. Jerry Stackhouse tied the game with a three-pointer at 68-68 to break the run but the damage at that point had been done and the Hawks had let the Heat back up off the deck.
The fourth quarter saw both teams going back and forth. LeBron James put Miami up 77-71 with 7:29 to go with a lay up and the Hawks responded with a 9-0 run to take a 80-77 lead capped off by a Josh Smith three-pointer. Miami would score the next six points to reclaim the lead for good. Atlanta ended up with the last shot but Jannero Pargo's game-tying attempt clanged off the back of the rim securing the victory for Miami.
Josh Smith came up big again for the Hawks finishing with 23 points on 9-22 shooting. As fatigue started to set in, it looked like Smith was inclined to let Miami push him further and further from the basket and he only finished with six rebounds but I am not going to nitpick his effort. His high level of play has been key in the Hawks recent resurgence despite the rash of injuries they have suffered.
Jeff Teague finished with 16 points on 8-12 shooting and handed out only two assists to go with five turnovers. He left the game late after tweaking his ankle but did a good job of penetrating the Miami defense where he scored on a variety of floaters and runners in the lane.
Jerry Stackhouse chipped in 10 points off the bench including that three-point bucket to stop the Heat's big run in the third quarter that momentarily tied the game. Stack hit 4-8 shots from the field but was also saddled with three turnovers.
Enough hasn't been said about the play of Zaza Pachulia this season given the amount of injuries that the Hawks have had to endure. Where would they be without Pachulia? Zaza battled Miami in the paint for over 41 minutes and finished with nine points and 10 rebounds.
For Miami LeBron James was well LeBron James scoring 31 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and essentially getting to the free throw line anytime he yells going to the basket. The Hawks had very little answers for him and on this night the Heat had very little but him. Dwyane Wade ended up with 18 points on 7-17 shooting but struggled early. Wade also finished with nine rebounds and six assists.
Chris Bosh was the missing man for much of the night although his baseline jumper with 33 seconds remaining made the score 85-81 and proved to be the dagger for the Hawks. Bosh finished 3-14 in the game for nine points and routinely found himself with the ball at the top of the key against the Hawks zone defense and simply wasn't able to make them pay.
Atlanta's overall defensive effort on the Heat was solid especially on the perimeter where they held Miami to 0-10 shooting from three-point range. Miami grabbed 13 offensive rebounds but Atlanta held a 10-7 advantage in second chance points. The Heat had a slight edge in points in the paint 40-38 but the Hawks surprisingly had a 19-17 edge in fastbreak points. Which leads us right back to the turnovers and free throw disparity as the only things that prevented this game from being a double digit win for the Hawks.
The eastern portion of Atlanta's six-game road trip wraps up on Friday in Detroit before the Hawks head out west for three games next week.