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Hawks capitulate during late frenzy in loss to Heat

The Hawks, against all the odds, looked as though they were going to secure this win but were denied late on...

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks fell short on the first night of a back-to-back, and the first game a home-and-home, against the Miami Heat, losing out 101-98 at the American Airlines Arena on Tuesday night.

John Collins led the Hawks with a double-double: 19 points and 10 rebounds. Tyler Dorsey added 18 points in what was another strong outing for the rookie from Oregon.

For the Heat, they were led by Goran Dragic’s 22 points while Hassan Whiteside added 18 points and 12 rebounds.

Somehow, the Hawks fall short

Before diving into how the Hawks let this victory slip away, you have to acknowledge what an effort this was by the Hawks in the first place, because they were incredibly shorthanded on this night.

First, you have the usual suspects on the injury report: Kent Bazemore and Dennis Schröder are, of course, done for the season, with Malcolm Delaney, Jaylen Morris and Antonius Cleveland — who was listed as available to play but did not feature — also sidelined.

Next, the Hawks assigned a number of players back to the Hawks’ G-League affiliate Erie Bayhawks as they continue their playoff push against the Fort Wayne Mad Ants (which they won, so well done to them). This meant that Josh Magette, Tyler Cavanaugh, Andrew White and Jeremy Evans were all unavailable to the Hawks on this Tuesday night.

And just before the tip of this game, Dewayne Dedmon — who was already listed as the starting center, that’s how close to tip this was before this happened — was ruled out with a rib injury and Miles Plumlee was called upon to start in this place.

This meant the Hawks were running an eight-man rotation in Miami last night and that became a seven-man rotation when Taurean Prince was benched for the entire second half (more on that soon).

Despite all of these things, the Hawks hung around and actually took a nine point lead in the fourth quarter after a three-pointer made by Mike Muscala.

The Hawks capitalized on a lack of Miami urgency, and it was odd why the Heat weren’t really showing any for the majority of this game because they really needed this win.

A win would not only confirm their playoff berth, but would also go a long way in the battle they’re currently involved in, jostling with the Milwaukee Bucks and Washington Wizards for playoff seeding, but that urgency didn’t seem to come until the Hawks took that nine point lead.

The crowd were also struggling to get into the game in the final period, but a big Dwyane Wade dunk ignited the crowd, possibly giving the Heat the extra motivation they needed to try and get a run in, now down by just five points with seven minutes to go. After a missed shot by Dorsey, the crowd was really into it: you could sense the Miami run that would surely put them in the box-seat for this game was coming, but it fizzled away quickly after Goran Dragic air-balled a floater just before DeAndre’ Bembry hits this wild bank shot that absolutely should not have gone in:

Those two possessions (the Dragic miss and the Bembry make) were two hugely important possessions at that time of the game — it took the sting and momentum out of Miami’s run, the crowd was silenced to a degree and the Hawks reestablished a seven point lead.

It looked like the Heat’s best opportunity had passed and the Hawks seized control of this game after Bembry hits this last second three-pointer to put the Hawks up by eight points with three minutes to go:

Watching this live, you thought this was it: the Hawks were going to win this game. Those two shots from DeAndre’ Bembry were, ‘Oh, the Hawks are winning this game,’ kind of shots — it just didn’t seem like, with the difficulty of degree those two shots that Bembry made, seemingly typifying the Hawks’ night, that this was a night to Hawks were going to be denied.

But the Heat weren’t done yet.

James Johnson replied instantly with a layup and then hit another layup after Isaiah Taylor was called for an offensive foul the previous trip down.

Johnson struck again, this time from behind the arc, and the Hawks’ lead had been cut to just one point. After another miss from the Hawks, the Heat finally retook the lead as Hassan Whiteside tipped in the miss from Josh Richardson:

After misses from both sides, the ball finds its way back in the hands of the Hawks, down one point with 21 seconds left after an inexplicable error from Whiteside, deciding to shoot the ball after grabbing an offensive rebound with the shotclock now off (the Hawks would’ve had to have intentionally fouled the Heat to get the ball back after free throws if he had kept it) before it goes off of Whiteside and out of bounds:

A fantastic demonstration highlighting a lack of basketball IQ/game awareness by Whiteside here, and it gives the Hawks — despite crumbling down the stretch after a 9-0 Heat run — a chance to win the game.

But the Heat’s defense shifts beautifully and the Hawks are struggling to find an opportunity with the clock winding down. Eventually it ends up with Lee getting inside the paint and putting up a push shot, only to be denied by Josh Richardson who blocks the shot and draws the foul from Lee:

A great defensive play by Richardson, and with only a second and change remaining in a one point game, the Hawks sent the Heat to the line — Richardson dispatching both free throws — and had just six tenths of a second to tie the game with a three. It ends up in hands of Collins but Richardson is there again with a block and the game ends:

An 11-0 run by the Heat over the final three minutes secured a spot in the playoffs for the Heat...

Postgame, Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said there’s only one way for this Heat team, and that’s ‘the hard way’ — they certainly left themselves with everything to do in those final three minutes but they managed to get it done, to the relief of some Hawks fans out there.

For the Hawks, well... Really, they shouldn’t have been in the position they were with three minutes to go (again, extremely shorthanded, lacking for player quality with the players they did have available to them [sorry, those are the facts] and on the road against a playoff team) but they fought and scrapped, earning the right to be in this game down the stretch.

“Shorthanded, everyone had to load up on the minutes,” said John Collins. “Coach did a good job subbing us out with a 7/8 man rotation. I think everybody played their hearts out tonight.”

Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer was proud of his team’s effort on a night where he tried somethings differently.

“Really, really pleased with the guys’ effort,” said Budenholzer postgame. “To come in here and compete with this team in this environment, doing some things (that were) a little bit unorthodox... Certainly helped us but for our guys to do it on the fly... A lot of positives tonight, a lot of guys got better, played a lot of minutes, pushed them. Just couldn’t quite get it done in the end.”

Budenholzer also briefly mentioned playing zone defense and Mike Muscala playing small forward, he certainly tried some interesting things last night.

It bears repeating the fighting spirit of this team: they have nothing to play for in terms of playoff position (and haven’t for a while now) but they continue to pour their heart out on the floor and you have to give a lot credit to the players and the coaching staff, because — and you see it across the league — some lottery teams are pretty checked out as the season winds down with not a lot to play for.

The Hawks honestly deserved to win this game — they were the better team last night. The Heat were just awful for basically the entire game but flicked that switch late and got it done. I don’t want to take too much away from the Hawks (because they did play very well with what they had) but it’s hard to stress how bad the Heat were last night — with a win needed to clinch a playoff spot and jostling for position with two other teams, they were just awful.

The mysterious benching of Taurean Prince

A mystery it was...

Taurean Prince obviously started this game, and it’s fair to say that — in the absence of Schröder and Bazemore — he’s probably the best player for this Hawks team. He’s certainly their most streaky player, the player most likely to lead the team in scoring.

All of which makes it incredibly odd that he plays just 10 minutes in this game and he did not feature at all in the second half as Tyler Dorsey started the third quarter in his place.

When asked about the decision to bench Prince in the second half, Budenholzer did not elaborate, calling the decision t a ‘coach’s decision’.

It’s not too unusual to see Budenholzer extend his short leash with Prince — we’ve seen it often this season, and we have seen Budenholzer bench Prince for long stretches also. It’s not uncommon.

However, this is very, very different.

To extend that leash with an eight-man rotation is a very strange decision to make. The Hawks need every body available to them, especially one in the form of one of their better players in Prince. The Hawks obviously got on fine without him (leading in the closing stages as we’ve talked about) but still, very strange...

Anything to help the tank teach Prince, I suppose...

Three-point differential

Probably the biggest reason why the Hawks were able to hang around and take the lead in this game was the fact that they hit their threes and the Heat did not.

The Hawks shot 13-of-33 (39%) from the three-point line while the Heat only shot 8-of-33 (24%).

Tyler Dorsey led the three-point effort with four makes. We know Dorsey isn’t shy, he plays with a confidence and he looked confident stepping into every three he made last night, particularly this three-pointer in the fourth quarter:

Dance on ‘em, young fella.

Coach Budenholzer liked what he saw from Dorsey in what Budenholzer said was a good test for Dorsey.

“Tyler was great,” said Budenholzer of Dorsey. “He hit some big buckets. At one point I think we went up nine (points) after he hits a couple of threes... I think he’s learning, this is a great test for him: their guards are physical. For him to get some separation and gets some shots were great. And on the other end I thought he got some 50-50 balls and things like that. It was a good night for Tyler Dorsey.”

Elsewhere, John Collins nailed a career-best three three-pointers: two from the corner and one from the top of the key:

John Collins is expanding his game, no longer just limited to that corner three he constantly practices. He had a great game in his native Florida with family in attendance to watch him score those 19 points and grab those 10 rebounds.

Mike Muscala also hit three three-pointers and, again, these really helped the Hawks hang around and compete in this game as the Heat failed to make their own threes — 39-24 the difference in points scored from three-pointers in favor of the Hawks.

The Hawks (22-56) are back in action tonight at Philips Arena against the same opponent, the Miami Heat, as the Hawks wrap up their final game with the Heat this season.

Should be interesting, given what just happened last night.

Stay tuned.