Long-time fans of the Atlanta Hawks had their collective guard up after news broke that the Miami Heat would be down arguably their top three players for Friday's game at Philips Arena. While it looked to be an easy victory for the home team (at near full strength), the masses had seen this scenario play out in horrific fashion before.
This time, the terrified fan base was justified.
The Hawks slept through the first quarter of play and never fully recovered, trailing for the lion's share of the night and losing to the undermanned Heat (without Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside) by a final score of 115-111.
The All-Star break (and, perhaps, the trade deadline) did not do much to ensure quality basketball in the early going on Friday. Both teams came out of the gates with a horrifically sloppy performance, including a 30% shooting clip and six turnovers for the Hawks against a 36% shooting performance from Miami in the the first quarter. The 22-19 score after 12 minutes was indicative of that woeful showing on both ends, but on the bright side, it was competitive.
Miami "woke up" first, though, and that allowed the Heat to take control in the second quarter. The visiting Heat built a 9-point lead on multiple occasions in the second quarter as Atlanta continued to have trouble with ball security, and things looked relatively bleak until the final minutes before halftime. Then, the Hawks emerged from the slumber with a 13-4 run to close the half, and that included a three from Mike Scott to tie the game at 52-52 after 24 minutes of game action.
The Hawks were aided by 12-12 shooting from the free throw line in the first half, and a 63% shooting effort in the second quarter was highly encouraging. Still, it was an underwhelming effort given the shorthanded nature of the Heat's roster, and expectations were not met before the break.
As has plagued this team throughout the year, the Heat made a run in the third quarter. Miami used an 8-0 spurt to claim a 72-66 lead midway through the period, but on cue, Atlanta woke up again down the stretch. Kyle Korver exploded for 11 points in the period to aid the push, and Dennis Schröder connected on a buzzer-beating three to reinstall the home team to the lead at 81-79 with only one quarter left to play.
That advantage was short-lived, however, as the Heat quickly took the lead back and extended it significantly with a 10-3 run midway through the period. After that barrage, the Hawks trailed 98-90 with 6:12 to play, and things weren't the least bit comfortable for a team that had a big-time talent and depth advantage in this particular game.
Then, Kyle Korver knocked down a three and Kent Bazemore followed it with a Euro-step lay-up, and suddenly, the lead was down to three with 4:47 to play and Miami was calling a timeout to stop the bleeding. Following the stoppage, Jeff Teague converted an open three to tie the game, but it was quickly answered on the other end by a three from Miami, and the Hawks could not push the comeback over the top in the form of a lead.
That unfortunate trend continues as Josh McRoberts helped to lead Miami back to a six-point cushion, and when Luol Deng hit a corner jumper with 1:33 to play, that shot served as the dagger in giving the Heat a 110-102 lead. That advantage proved to be insurmountable, even as the Hawks climbed within three in the final minute, and Atlanta suffered a four-point defeat that left the home crowd frustrated.
When examining the two active rosters on this night, there is simply no justification for the result and the Hawks will need to play much improved basketball to bounce back with a win on Saturday against the Milwaukee Bucks. Stay tuned.