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Hawks exact revenge on Heat behind balanced effort

A split in Miami and the season series to boot.

Atlanta Hawks vs. Miami Heat Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks returned to winning ways on Tuesday night as they once again squared off against the Miami Heat in South Beach, leaving Miami with a split as they took the 94-80 victory.

In a balanced effort, Trae Young led the way with 18 points as all five starters notched double-digit scoring. For the Heat — again, without Jimmy Butler — both Goran Dragic and Duncan Robinson led the way with 14 points in an offensive struggle for the Heat.

This was... not a pretty game as both teams. Neither attempted more than 75 shots, the Heat shot 37% for the game and shot 27% on threes — it just wasn’t the most pleasurable game on the eyes.

However, it matters not for the Hawks, though I’m sure they’ll believe they should have wrapped things up much earlier in this game. On a number of occasions before the fourth quarter, the Hawks held a lead of nine points and failed to stretch that to double digits and beyond on multiple occasions — their big missed chance to do so was in the first half where the Heat went on a prolonged scoring drought.

Shot-making in the fourth quarter was a huge point of emphasis in deciding Sunday night’s game: the Heat made their down the stretch and the Hawks didn’t, with Miami using a 10-0 run to secure that game.

On Tuesday night, it was the Hawks’ turn to reverse those fortunes, shooting 71% in the fourth quarter on 10-of-14 shooting from the field and 5-of-9 from three. The Heat, conversely, 28% from the field and 1-of-6 from three in the final quarter.

The key run came just under the 7:30 mark in the fourth quarter, where the Heat tied the game at 73 points apiece after a Gabe Vincent basket, leading to a Hawks timeout.

Out of the timeout came the most decisive run of the game, so let’s take a look at it.

The Heat, it should be no surprise, run a lot of zone and here, Clint Capela is the free man behind the defense. Kevin Huerter zips the bounce-pass to Capela inside, who finishes the tough shot inside to get the run started:

The Heat come the other way, with Bam Adebayo on the weakside taking Capela away from protecting the rim. The Heat attack from the right, putting Danilo Gallinari in the position to have to help but Gallinari does well to challenge the shot from Tyler Herro at the rim, forcing the miss:

After a long break, Young returned to the game after the Hawks’ last timeout following the Vincent basket. He had scored five points on 2-of-7 shooting and 1-of-4 from three up to that point. He got himself off going in the fourth quarter with the step-back three as the Heat try to handle him with single coverage:

Defended one-on-one by Andre Iguodala — following his split free throws — Young pulls up from deep to give the Hawks a seven-point lead:

This was quite similar to his three-point attempt down the stretch on Sunday night. It’s still not a great shot but the difference this time is Young made it.

The Heat get a good look at a shot with the Adebayo jumper at the free throw line, but it’s offline:

Now leading by seven points, the Hawks come back again. The Heat are a little more wary this time of Young, with Iguodala more ready to help this time. Young takes another step-back, deep three-pointer which he hits, pushing the Hawks’ lead to 10 for the first time and the Heat call for timeout:

An 11-1 run there for the Hawks to flip the game on its head, fueled by those tough three-pointers hit by Young.

“I always know I can get going whenever,” said Young postgame of the stretch. “It only takes a couple to go down for me to get a rhythm. Tonight, they switched up a lot of their defenses and they make it tough to get a shot from the top because they trap a lot. When I got a couple of shots to go in, it felt good.”

After the Heat come up empty handed on the following possession out of the timeout (with the Hawks forcing an airball three at the end of the clock), Young would go on to draw two fouls on Goran Dragic, sending him to the free throw line for four free throws to push the lead to 14 with 3:24 remaining in the game.

From there — not even with how the Hawks have struggled in the fourth quarter — they saw it through, the buzzer sounding on an 94-80 victory: the fewest points the Hawks have allowed this season.

Granted, this was somewhat fueled by Miami’s shooting struggles and, arguably, worst quarter of their entire season (eventually running their total to a tied season-low — in any quarter — of 14 points at the end), but the Hawks took care of business against a Heat side that is convincingly less threatening without Jimmy Butler.

Regardless, after a tumultuous 24 hours, the Hawks emerged with a sorely needed victory. Interim head coach Nate McMillan was pleased with the defensive effort the Hawks displayed, both at the beginning and the end of the game.

“What we talked about, losing Coach Pierce, we all had to do better. That was the challenge to this team tonight,” said McMillan postgame. “He took a hit because we didn’t do what we were supposed to be doing out there. I thought tonight they did better. They we aggressive defensively — all of the things we’ve been talking about all season long — we were up to touch, we were aggressive defensively, we established our defense in the first quarter with 17 points and in the fourth quarter we gave up only 14 points. The defense got stronger. Offensively we did some good things, we’ve got to do a better job taking care of the ball. The message this morning was ‘If we’re going to point fingers at anybody for what happened, we need to point them at ourselves, individually. We need to do better.’ Coach took a hit for this team not performing and I thought tonight they went out and did better. They did what we thought they could do.”

Despite Miami’s burst in the third quarter (outscoring the Hawks 29-19), the Hawks were able to maintain their composure defensively and produce the stops they needed in the fourth quarter.

“Defensively, locking back in,” said Kevin Huerter on the key to fourth quarter. “Really all night I felt we were good defensively and were physical in all our movement. They had guys make tough shots in that third quarter. Robinson had three threes, Herro had three threes and they got back into the game. We didn’t overreact with those and stuck to our game-plan which is being into the ball, being physical and in the fourth quarter they didn’t get the same looks. That was really the difference.”

McMillan has previously talked about ‘The Three C’s’ (calm, clear, connected) when he took over in Pierce’s absence earlier in February. McMillan was satisfied with the Hawks in this regard last night, though wasn’t as enthused with the Hawks’ 23 turnovers on the night.

“We talked about being calm, being clear about what we’re doing out there, what need to do on both ends of the floor and being connected,” said McMillan. “We talk about being a fist: the tighter the fist the easier it is to knock someone out. I thought tonight we were connected on the offensive end of the floor as well as the defensive end of the floor. We certainly to do a better job of taking care of the ball. 23 turnovers. You’re not going to win many games with that amount of turnovers.”

The Heat scored 19 points off of the Hawks’ 23 turnovers but ironically this was the fourth game this season where the Hawks have committed 20-plus turnovers in a game — the Hawks are 3-1 in these situations, oddly.

To help make up for the turnover deficit, the Hawks absolutely crushed the Heat on the rebounds, out-rebounding Miami 47-26 (marking a tied-low in the NBA all season for rebounds in a game) with the Hawks grabbing 11 offensive rebounds — seven of them coming from Capela (contributing to 13 second chance Atlanta points).

Rebounding the basketball was a point of emphasis postgame on Sunday and the Hawks certainly won that adjustment in Tuesday’s rematch, with Capela grabbing 17 rebounds. Between himself and John Collins, they caused the Heat a real problem in the front-court and their effort last night was absolutely key to securing victory.

“They executed the game-plan about as well as you could execute against a very good team,” said McMillan of Collins and Capela. “This is a good team in Miami. They make you earn everything that you get, they pride themselves on out-scrapping you and winning the hustle game. That was one of the keys tonight: we needed to win the hustle game, that is the 50-50 balls, the rebounding. I thought our guys did that. When you play that type of basketball defensively, offensively we clean up and you play with that type of energy and effort you’re going to give yourself a chance to win games.”

Collins, however, did not play in the fourth quarter and McMillan elaborated on Collins’ fourth quarter absence postgame, saying that there may be instances of occurrences like this happening from time-to-time (in this case, due to matchup purposes).

“I wanted to talk to the team about John not being out there and there are going to be nights like that,” said McMillan of Collins’ absence in the fourth quarter. “There are matchups that we feel we have an advantage. They went small and put three/four guards out there, we took Gallo off of the floor — Gallo was playing good basketball — and was just not able to get John into the game.

“To the credit of John, he was up cheering, I heard him cheering from the bench and that’s what we’ve got to be about ... we were winning, it wasn’t an individual winning, the Hawks were winning and it was working, the lineup that we had out there. Everybody has to support each other in situations like that because it’s going to be different night— it wasn’t that he wasn’t playing well, it was just we had a rhythm. We were scoring, we were stopping and when they went small and put four guards on the floor we made an adjustment to put Solo in the game to matchup defensively.”

As cliché as it sounds, the Hawks hit shots when it mattered in the fourth. These shots, as we’ve seen, weren’t always elite in quality — and plenty of them have missed in the past — but they fell on Tuesday, working in the Hawks’ favor. Young cited the Hawks’ shot-making before paying tribute to Collins for the work he did to get the Hawks back into the game in the first place.

“We had some shots go down,” said Young of the Hawks getting going in the fourth. “We stayed aggressive, guys made plays. T-Snell floated off the glass, every body was playing well. JC got us to that point ... he was the reason we got to that point. You got to show JC a lot of credit, it just shows how much he wanted to win. He obviously didn’t play very much at the end but he was very supportive of the guys who were in there and the guys that were in there made plays.”

Collins finished with 17 points on 6-of-12 shooting from the field in just under 27 minutes.

Aside from the much needed victory, the big talking point from matters on the court was the return of Bogdan Bogdanovic, who made his first appearance since January 9th after suffering an avulsion fracture in his right knee.

Bogdanovic scored five points on 2-of-5 shooting in just under 16 minutes of action under a minutes restriction as he works his way back, but hit a big three pointer in the fourth quarter to give the Hawks the lead:

Bogdanovic not only brings with him a sorely needed shooting presence off of the bench but some playmaking too, and this was immediately clear to see as he dished out four assists, including this nice drive and fake before finding Onyeka Okongwu for the dunk:

Speaking postgame, McMillan was unclear whether Bogdanovic would be available for Wednesday’s game (the second night of a back-to-back for the Hawks), but was pleased to have another wing option as well as Bogdanovic’s spacing/shooting back for the Hawks.

“It was great to see him out there and to have another body at that wing position,” said McMillan of Bogdanovic’s return. “Our guys have been working so hard, Trae, Kevin and Tony, all of those guys at the wing position. To have Bogi out there, a guy that can open up the floor, knock down some shots, it was good to see one of those go down. He’s just playing, trying to get a rhythm and it’s going to take some time. He only had 16 minutes tonight, hopefully he’s allowed to play tomorrow night and hopefully those minutes can increase.”

“It was great, honestly,” said Bogdanovic on his return. “Finding the rhythm with the guys, chemistry again. Honestly, I missed playing. It was tough being out but I’m happy that I’m healthy and back.”

“This is such a small sample for Bogi,” said Huerter of Bogdanovic. “It’s so tough, you’ve been out for a couple of months and it doesn’t matter who you are, your first game back you’re going to be rusty, you’ve got to get in the flow of the game, obviously the game is moving fast. He’s going to be a lot better moving forward, he’s going to be more aggressive moving forward. Someone like him, just to have his presence back on the court, those threes he hit were in big situations, threes that we needed, got us back in the game in the fourth quarter and we were able to finish it out. It’s great to have him back and he’s only going to get better and more comfortable moving forward.”

“It’s always good when Bogi’s out there making shots, you can tell he felt good. I just talked to him, he said he felt great,” said Young of Bogdanovic. “It’s good to see him back, it’s good to see him out there. He was dying to be out there. It’s good to see him back.”

The Hawks are obviously delighted to have Bogdanovic back on the court and it seems pretty clear that Bogdanovic is just universally liked and respected by his teammates. His return to form might be somewhat slow given the nature of his injury and how long he’s been sidelined, but the return of Bogdanovic is a very welcome one for everyone.

Bogdanovic was part of a much better showing from the Hawks’ bench on Tuesday. While Danilo Gallinari (2-of-7 from the field, 2-of-6 from three) and Solomon Hill (0-of-3 from the field) struggled shooting the ball, they combined for a plus/minus total of plus-36 on the game. Single game plus/minus can be a little dodgy, but the Hawks certainly performed well when Hill was on the court, and McMillan eluded to the Hawks leaning on Hill in the fourth quarter for matchup reasons.

Okongwu, the rookie and No. 6 pick, arguably looked as good as he has done in real minutes last night, scoring six points on 3-of-3 shooting in 10 minutes of action.

After grabbing the offensive rebound, Okongwu does well to just move the defense and create some space for him to work into after the catch on the switch, and he scores at the rim:

On the entry pass from Bogdanovic, Okongwu fluidly spins and hits the jump-hook over Precious Achiuwa at the rim:

Okongwu re-joined the rotation in February and that looks set to continue under Nate McMillan in March. If he can provide a little bit of this in his limited action, that’d be hugely beneficial for the Hawks, who need everything they can get from their bench, and his future-facing development is also key.

All-in-all, a timely win for the Hawks but one they fought hard and deserved to win. It’s a very different Heat team when Butler plays but the same was true on Sunday and the Hawks lost that one. The adjustments the coaching staff made from Sunday’s game — including the emphasis on rebounding, which Pierce discussed after the first matchup — paid dividends.

For the Hawks (15-20), going forward to tonight’s game against the Orlando Magic (13-22), I wouldn’t expect too many changes from McMillan in terms of what the Hawks are doing before McMillan’s appointment as interim head coach, and he said as much in his introductory press conference on Tuesday. In addition, the rotations used on Tuesday virtually aligned with the previous regime (other than Bogdanovic coming back into the fold), and the bigger changes/adjustments will likely come after the break.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this quote from McMillan about identity, and what the Hawks showed last plays into that identity going forward.

“We have to establish a style, we have to create an identity for ourselves,” said McMillan. “That’s the thing you want with your team. ‘Who are we? Are we capable of doing this again tomorrow night and when we come back from the break?’ We have to create that identity and tonight is the identity we want defensively: we get after you, we get up and we pressure, we’re connected on the weakside and we rebound the ball, we limit teams to one shot. Offensively, push the ball down the floor, try to get something easy, if we don’t have that we want to play late and make teams defend. That is creating an identity. The identity that we had tonight other than the turnovers is what we want to try and become.”