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Hawks topple Heat behind strong second half performance

This was close (and ugly) at the half and then things got away in a hurry...

NBA: Miami Heat at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks returned to winning ways as the knocked off the Miami Heat in great fashion, 106-82, at State Farm Arena on Sunday evening.

Trae Young led all scorers with 19 points while Derrick Jones Jr. led the Heat with 14 points.

Let’s break this one down.

Second half turnaround

Let’s be straight right off the bat: this game was ugly in the first half. Really ugly — I’d use profanity if I could to further describe it...

The Hawks shot just 31% from the field and 27% from three in the first half while the Heat shot 32% from the field and a horrid 1-of-16 from three (they literally couldn’t buy a bucket) as neither team reached 40 points by the half (Hawks led at the half 38-37) and no player on either side reaching double-digit scoring.

That takes some doing in today’s NBA.

The Hawks also coughed the ball up on 14 occasions but, of course, we know this be part of the 2018-19 Atlanta Hawks’ identity.

And heading into the third quarter, it looked like it was going to be the first half all over again, with the first possession typifying the first half:

Just a mess (and a Miami miss from three).

But as it turned out, this was not how the second half would unfold — at least not for the Atlanta Hawks.

Behind a strong 41-point third quarter in which the Hawks surpassed their entire first half tally, the Hawks blew the Heat out of the water (dousing, if you will) and Miami had no response once the Hawks (finally) started to make some shots.

The Hawks 63% from the field in the second half and hit 54% of their three-pointers. They also cleaned up their turnovers in a major way, committing just three turnovers in the second half after committing 14 in the first half.

All in all, it ended up being a demolition — the Hawks leading by as many as 30 points — and one of the Hawks’ more convincing wins of the season as they held the Heat to just 82 points, a season-best for the Hawks to hold an opponent this season.

“I’d like to take credit for us defensively, I thought our guys competed at a high level,” said Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce on the second half. Neither team scored in the first half ... none of the shots were falling which helps your defense.

“I thought we turned it up a lot in the second half. Offensively and defensively we were scrambling around. They got a couple of offensive rebounds early in the third quarter but I thought we were scrambling around and making it hard for them to get downhill. And obviously they were shooting a lot of threes as a result of us crowding the paint, they just didn’t go down tonight.”

The third quarter — in which the Haws outscored the Heat by 20 points — was obviously the turning point in this game. But what changed?

“We had a different mentality (in the second half),” said Pierce postgame. T”o hold Miami to 21 third-quarter points, to score 41 third-quarter points was impressive. We couldn’t get anything going in the first half. We were attacking. We were getting downhill. We were getting to the rim. The second half was as good a half as we’ve played all year.”

“Our video guys pulled the clips,” Pierce went on to say. “We were driving to pass and not to score. That was the difference. We came out in the third quarter and just drove to score. We got layups. DeAndre’ (Bembry) and Kevin (Huerter) both got to the rim. We saw that last time we played them. They have great presence at the rim. What happens is they end up contesting and we have drop-offs at the rim if they do contest. You have to attack downhill. In the first half, we were attacking to pass instead of score. All of those turnovers were because we were driving to pass, not score.”

There’s a lot in there to go over, so let’s pull one thing apart at a time when it comes to this.

Let’s start with the first half turnovers and what was going on there because these things Pierce discussed line up with some of these turnovers.

On this Trae Young drive, he elects not to go to his floater, sees John Collins for a lob opportunity and seems to get caught between the two and turns it over:

On the drive, going to his left, Kevin Huerter attempts to link up with the driving Collins and ends up turning the ball over:

Notice, also, in this clip how the Heat pack the paint. The Heat have played a lot of zone defense and what it did last night for the Hawks was invite them to drive into half-gaps (gaps that looked enticing to exploit but not full fledged gaps) and then close off those gaps once the Hawks drove into them, and the Heat contest well with their length and this was part of the reason they were able to turn the Hawks over as they did in the first half.

Here’s an example, from a missed shot this time instead of a turnover.

DeAndre’ Bembry is enticed by the driving lane shown to him, he takes it and the length/contest of James Johnson deters Bembry enough from making this layup, which John Collins cleans up:

To be honest, that’s a layup Bembry should be making regardless but I think you get the idea...

The Hawks were also very narrow in their attack at times on their pick-and-rolls, narrowing the angle, making it easier to the Heat to help on defense/come up with deflections and just making it easier for the Heat to defend the Hawks, as that drive from Huerter the clip before last showed.

Let’s look at a few more.

Young gets downhill off of a drive and, again, elects not to go to his floater but fully commits to the lob this time but it’s broken up by Bam Adebayo, leading to a turnover:

On the drive, Bembry sees the gap, goes for it, it’s closed off by the Heat’s movement and length (Adebayo flashing his length on the drive) and Bembry passes out of it, passes to Collins but it’s intercepted and it’s another turnover:

Again, the Hawks are making life difficult for themselves but that is some play from Adebayo defensively, not only to deter Bembry and forcing the pass but then to deflect that pass — defending both plays on this possession.

“He (Pierce) told us at halftime that all of the guards were coming off ball screens and looking to pass to the bigs and they (Miami) were getting deflections and turnovers,” said DeAndre’ Bembry.

Things changed in the third quarter and the Hawks were more aggressive in their drives, less passive and they widened their angle of attack, making it easier to score and set themselves up.

Here, Bembry makes a wider approach as he curls on this possession, goes more towards the baseline and he scoops up this layup:

“...At halftime, he told us just attack the rim and be aggressive and that’s what we were doing – me, Trae, all of the guards were just playing downhill and attacking the bigs rather than looking for the pass,” said Bembry postgame.

If he wanted to, Bembry could’ve given this off to Dewayne Dedmon but the halftime message seem to preach aggression/don’t pass out of layups/shots at the rim.

Another thing the Hawks did a bit more of in the second quarter was plant John Collins in the corner, in hopes — I’m assuming — in nullifying the impact Hassan Whiteside has in a game, both from a rebounding and shot-blocking perspective. The other thing when it comes to Whiteside is his help defense isn’t great — he lacks effort (and that could be generously speaking at times).

Here, Bembry drives from the corner, Collins is planted in the corner and Whiteside doesn’t help/contest as Bembry uses the other side of the rim to shield from the contest from behind and hits the reverse layup:

On this possession, Bembry initially heads to his right before going back to his left and driving inside (again, you can see the slightly wider approach in this situation compared to the first half) and finding Dedmon for the layup off of the pick-and-roll initially set:

Again, Collins is in the corner with Whiteside ‘on’ him and, again, Whiteside does not help. Bembry’s decision to go back to his left with Whiteisde on the weak-side (the help side) I don’t think was a coincidence — this seemed to be a concerted effort by the Hawks to try put Whiteside in ‘no man’s land’ and lessen his impact by ‘guarding’ a player who can hit threes (and, to be fair, Collins, Dedmon and Alex Len can all do this) and making sure he’s on the side of the defense that would help.

Whiteside ended up playing just under 20 minutes, scored just two points (attempting two ghastly threes), grabbed just four rebounds and was minus+25 in those 21 minutes.

Adjustments helped the Hawks in the third quarter but they also just started hitting shots and they were also helped by a number of players stepping up in the third quarter, such as Daniel Hamilton (more on him later), Jeremy Lin (more on that later), Dewayne Dedmon in the early parts of Q3 and, of course, DeAndre’ Bembry.

Defensively, the Hawks turned it up a bit but they really were helped (so much) by the Heat just continuing to miss shots (5-of-34 from three on the night) and shooting 15-of-27 from the free throw line.

“I thought we played casually on the offensive end tonight as we had a lot of turnovers and took poor shots,” said Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra. “These are things that ailed us early in the year and they all seemed to come back and all that came down on us in the second half and the Hawks totally outplayed us tonight.”

“It’s doing things with a purpose,” Spoelstra went on to say. “Sense of urgency, focus, details. These are things that we have been doing well all season. This just wasn’t our best game and they (the Hawks) had a lot to say about it as they played well and we paid the price.”

Given how poor they were shooting from three, one would’ve thought that, perhaps, the Heat would’ve deployed Wayne Ellington or Dion Waiters but both saw DNP-CD’s.

“I don’t know,” said Spoelstra when asked why Ellington and Waiter didn’t play, given the Heat’s three-point struggles. “When you have a game like this, then anything would be a better answer than what I did tonight and what we did collectively tonight.”

The Hawks are now 3-0 up on the Heat in the season series — the Heat have been a team the Hawks have matched up well with this season.

“You have to credit Atlanta and their locker room in all three games,” said Spoelstra. “They just played at a different pace and intensity level and urgency level than we have and we paid the price in all three games. In the NBA it is tough to win on any given night, particularly on the road as records can be very deceptive. If you don’t bring your best effort, your best game, or your best focus then you can pay the price and get beat at any time...”

Winning solves a multitude of problems, the crushing defeat in Milwaukee quickly forgotten.

“I feel like our team has been playing better basketball (overall),” said guard Jeremy Lin. “Obviously, if we could take the last game out, that would be great. I think everyone is trying to erase that from their memories. I felt like we responded well tonight. We’ve been able to play good games against Miami, for sure, but I think it’s just the overall trend that we’ve had.”

Lin makes a good point — this was a great response from the team after that truly horrific Bucks game.

And the Hawks needed this win, their schedule is not kind to them in the short-term. It could be a while for they see another win.

(Thank you, and shoutout, to fellow Peachtree Hoops writer, Glen Willis, who noticed at the time of it happening, some of what the Hawks adjusted in the second half in terms of the Hawks’ drives and spacing, and for explaining it to me to help bring to you today.)

Starting lineup change and strong bench performances

Heading into this game saw a change to the starting lineup.

With Kent Bazemore and Taurean Prince still rehabbing from their respective injuries, Daniel Hamilton had seen himself in the starting two-spot but last night DeAndre’ Bembry was given a crack at that role, Hamilton moving back to the bench.

“Just an opportunity,” said Pierce of the decision. “Both TP and Baze are out, so it’s a lot easier to do it. The conversation with those two guys being healthy really wasn’t in the play. We gave D-Ham (Daniel Hamilton, if that wasn’t obvious) a couple of opportunities and coming off of the loss we had the other night, a free opportunity for me to shake up a tad-bit.”

Let me paraphrase: ‘Our regular starters are out. Sure, why not give these guys a look at starting? May as well’

And both performed well in their roles.

We’ve mentioned Bembry in parts already but he finished with 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting (11 of those coming in the second half and a lot coming near the rim) and was a team-best plus-26 on the night, while Hamilton scored nine points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out six assists on the night.

“I thought both guys played well,” continued Pierce. “I thought Daniel Hamilton came in and gave us effective minutes defensively, I thought he gave us effective minutes at the end of the shot clock a couple of times. ‘Dre (DeAndre’ Bembry) was just great. He was great all night, especially in the third quarter of attacking and getting downhill and making the right plays.”

Once the second half came, it was like a switch was flicked as Bembry was just able to score at will near the rim: floater or layup, he was able to get what he put up to go down.

His signature move (I think it’s fair to say), the long-armed layup high off glass, was of course among them:

Hamilton, meanwhile, arguably enjoyed his best NBA game of his career and, like many others, was active in the third quarter, making an impact.

Six assists on the night for Hamilton was arguably the most impressive of his stats, the pick of the bunch coming in the fourth quarter as he drives from the wing, collapses the defense and finds John Collins underneath the rim for the basket:

Whoo-boy, that’s nice to watch. That’s a great play from Hamilton.

The Hawks ran a bit more in the open-court in the third quarter (scoring eight of their 21 fastbreak points in the third) and Hamilton was involved in this play, assisting Lin for the layup in transition:

“Either both teams were playing really well on defense or both teams weren’t making shots. But I think it was just us getting into a rhythm. Playing really good defense in the second half, that turned into transition points and that’s one of our best things, is getting out in transition,” said rookie point guard Trae Young.

Lin and Hamilton would combine again after the miss from Hamilton at the rim is collected by Hamilton himself before finding Lin on the perimeter for the three-pointer:

Speaking of Jeremy Lin, he enjoyed a very good game, a very efficient game — 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field and five assists.

We’ve seen a few of his plays already and there’s not a ton more to say other than this was Lin’s best game of, arguably, the last three weeks as Lin has struggled at times — shooting 39% over his last eight games before this game.

The Hawks’ bench is something that has served them well this season and provided a boost, and it’s encouraging to see that that’s still happening, despite the Hawks having to dip into their bench while Bazemore and Prince have been sidelined.

And Jeremy Lin is a huge part of that.

“I’ve called him a stabilizer all year,” said Pierce of Lin. “He changes the pace of the game. It’s a little bit slower. It’s more under control. He’s effective getting downhill and in the paint. We needed that tonight. We couldn’t score. He made a timely basket in the second quarter when neither team was scoring. He’s done that all year. That’s who he is as a 30-year-old point guard. Just understands how to get to his spots and be effective in those spots.”

‘Mid pick-and-roll’, baby.

(Pierce expressed how much he likes Lin in the mid pick-and-roll before the season started, just in case that last line appeared odd. He didn’t say ‘baby’ though, just felt like the right thing to say...)

Rookie watch

Just a quick note on the rookies...

Solid games for both Young and Huerter — 19 points for Young on 6-of-14 shooting from the field, 3-for-3 from three.

The odd part of Young’s game last night was he had just two assists and it took until the second half of the game to tally his first assist. Now, to be fair, had the Hawks actually scored in the first half, I’m sure this wouldn’t have been the case but a bit of an anomaly for Young.

Funny isn’t it, in the game where his playmaking wasn’t at his best, Young shot 3-of-3 from behind the arc, including a 33 footer:

In his last four games, Young is shooting over 50% on his 4.5 attempts from three per game.

“That part of his game is starting to come back,” said Pierce of Young’s three-point shot.

Kevin Huerter, meanwhile, had a really interesting game, flirting with a triple-double: 10 points, eight rebounds and a career-high seven assists in 36 minutes of play.

Another tough outing in terms of field goal percentage for Huerter (4-of-16) but, as he has been throughout, Lloyd Pierce is not concerned with what the shooting percentages are: he just wants to get Huerter as many shots as he can.

“Kevin was 4-for-16 from the field today and he played great,” said Pierce of Huerter. “We’ll take every single shot he got tonight. The key for him is ‘Let’s get him 16 shots’, I think he’s that good of a shooter and he’s that capable of a shooter that if he can get 16 shots, he’s not going to be 4-for-16 many times. What we’re really excited about is he got seven or eight assists tonight, seven or eight assists tonight. He’s that versatile of a player as well. You’re seeing his growth: probably a career-high in assists tonight, he had career-high in rebounds in Cleveland, he had a career-high in made threes in Indiana with six — we’re seeing him do a bunch of different things every night out.”

Some really good quotes there from Pierce, again, highlighting that he doesn’t care what Huerter is shooting but that he does simply that: shoot.

‘One last dance’

There will be some Dwyane Wade talk here but only out of formality (kind of have to mention it) and I promise it won’t be long...

This game marked Miami Heat legend Dwyane Wade’s last game in Atlanta, an opponent — being in the same division — Wade has seen very often throughout his career.

The Hawks introduced him with class and he received a video tribute that included a special message from Vince Carter:

“It was cool,” said Wade of the tribute. “I got to be on a podcast with Vince last night and we got to talk about a whole lot of things, so it was definitely cool to come here today and see the video that the organization put together for me. When I came in to the league, Vince was literally at the top and was someone who I really admired.”

Vince and Wade seemed to share the court often last night, and I know they are both coming off the bench these days but part of it seemed like it was by design too. The two future Hall of Famers have already exchanged jerseys this season, and there was another jersey swap after the buzzer between Wade and Trae Young this time.

“It’s not every day he does that, and for it being his last time here in Atlanta, you know I was honored to get his jersey,” said Young of the exchange. “I remember the first time he was playing, even back at Marquette, I was in the first grade … just watching him play. So, I’ve been a fan of ‘Flash’ for a long time.”

The Hawks (12-27) are back in action tomorrow north of the border against the Toronto Raptors.

That...has disaster written all over it but hopefully it will be fun.

Until then...