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Hawks outlast Heat after late Butler shots go begging

Miami Heat v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks came into a Friday night tilt against the Miami Heat looking to extend their newly formed winning streak. In front of them awaited a Heat team that had captured two wins over Atlanta just a week prior. It was a chippy affair throughout, and despite a healthy margin for the home team entering the fourth period, the Hawks would have to hold on down the stretch to seal a 110-108 victory and a third straight win.

Miami continued their game plan of trapping the Hawks’ best ball handler Trae Young to force someone else to beat them at times. This didn’t come as a surprise to Atlanta, who had seen this same strategy deployed in their previous meetings. It was up the secondary scorers and facilitators to take over the reins when necessary.

In this clip, Young sees extra attention from the helping big man after a screen and roll from Clint Capela. Duncan Robinson, in an attempt to dig against the roll man, gives up a tad too much space for a Kevin Huerter triple.

In this next one, Young breaks Miami’s defense down off the dribble. The near corner defender helps, and Delon Wright calmly knocks down a 3-pointer.

Wright certainly held his own on both ends of the floor. Here, he almost steals the baseline pass from Kyle Guy, recovers, then successfully strips the ball from an unsuspecting Caleb Wilson. That breakup led to an easy finish at the rim for Capela.

“[Delon Wright] has been really solid for us all season long,” remarked head coach Nate McMillan. “Without [Bogdan Bogdanovic] being in the lineup, we were down guards tonight. He played a lot more minutes that he’s played all season long. He’s been doing a really good job of playing with Trae [Young]. It allows Trae to play off the ball. And he’s just been solid.”

Wright finished with a season-high 28 minutes off the bench in this contest, logging nine points, four assists and heady defense that doesn’t appear in box scores. Huerter added 21 points including 5-for-9 (55.6%) shooting from deep and four assists. Young finished with a mixed bag of a game in the face of aggressive defending. He will be happy about a 28-point and seven assist night, but did tally an ugly eight turnovers in the process.

“We’ve got to do a better job of taking care of that basketball,” said McMillan. “I don’t know how many turnovers we had in that fourth quarter. [We] just have to do a better job of putting value on every possession, especially the fourth quarter.”

“I think that they were trying to trap Trae when he had an iso,” Wright explained about Miami’s gameplan. “They tried to make other guys make a play. They did junk the game up. They’re a scrappy team and it worked for them.”

“They were trapping Trae all game,” echoed Huerter. “They were switching 1-through-5 a lot of it. Sending guys as the clock is winding down. Sending a guy to get the ball out of Trae’s hands. It’s our job on the backside to be aggressive. You move the ball. If [the opponent] is in scramble mode, you move the ball around enough and you get open shots. I was on the receiving end of a lot of open looks.”

Miami even found ways to get under Young’s skin when the ball was out of play, too. This exchange between him and Bam Adebayo caused a stir, and Young responded by first dropping Robinson and later burying a deep triple once play restarted.

Young explained that some of the jawing came from the Heat bench. “It wasn’t just Bam though,” said Young. “It was their bench. It was [assistant coach] Caron Butler. He was just saying stuff. But that’s part of competition. If you want to talk trash, I’m willing to talk it back.”

Atlanta was largely stellar through three quarters, especially offensively. The Hawks sported a robust 125.7 offensive rating and an 88-74 lead heading into the final 12 minutes. But Miami would slowly chip away at that margin and make it a manageable contest with under two minutes left to go. “We turned the ball over and we weren’t getting stops, said Huerter about the fourth quarter. “They hit a bunch of threes late. It seemed like we couldn’t get that one basket to stop the bleeding.”

A 31-19 run to start the fourth quarter brought the Heat to within two, until Trae and Capela linked up here for a finish at the rim. There doesn’t look to be a designed play here: Capela merely shows to receiving the inbound pass, then sees space in the lane and darts to the open area.

The Heat are able to counter the very next possession. After a handoff to Caleb Wilson, he turns the corner and penetrates. John Collins loses Robinson momentarily, and a corner up screen from Adebayo gives the sharpshooter all the space he needs.

After a shot clock violation turns the ball over on the other end, Atlanta is forced to protect just a one point lead. The Heat use Wilson to set a back screen to force the switch from De’Andre Hunter to Young on Jimmy Butler. But, in a stroke of good fortune for the Hawks, the seemingly wide open layup rolls off the rim.

“[Miami] did a good job of executing,” explained McMillan on this pivotal play. “The ball was right there for Jimmy [Butler]. We didn’t do a good job of communicating. They hit us with a back screen a few times and were able to score on that play. Our guys were just so locked in to those shooters that they didn’t give help. And we didn’t execute that defensive play well, really all game long. They burned us a couple of times. Thank goodness that that ball rolled out for us. You need breaks. You need a little luck. And we got one there.”

“Hell of a break,” said Young. “We could have switched it. It was just communication. I told [De’Andre Hunter] the screen was coming. I didn’t know if he was going to be able to get over [the Strus back screen]. It looked like he was going to be able to but then he didn’t. He just had a good look and thankfully he missed it.”

After a split at the free throw line following an intentional foul on Young, Atlanta was still up just two points and couldn’t relax for even a second. It appears this play was drawn up to lead to a dribble handoff to give Butler some space in the defense’s left corner. Collins smartly staying home, however, helped ensure that both Butler’s attempt and a Max Strus follow would miss the mark.

Peachtree Hoops’ own Glen Willis offers his insight into that thought process, as it seems the normally unwilling three-point shooter Jimmy Butler prefers that corner if forced to shoot.

“I thought that last closeout by John Collins was really good,” said coach McMillan. “It forced the miss. We were able to finish this game. Teams are going to make a run. That’s how the game is played. They had a big fourth quarter but we did enough. We got enough stops. We made enough baskets to win this game.”

Huerter put the feeling succinctly, saying, “we got lucky. Finally one fell in our favor.”

“When you lose so many games in a row, you kind of have a dark cloud over you,” said Wright summing up the different vibe surrounding a losing streak versus a winning streak. “It’s tough coming into the practice facility. You know you’re going to see your bad clips in the film. When we win, it’s a lot more of a good spirit in the building.”

The win brings the Hawks back to a 20-25 record on the season. Atlanta won’t have to worry about Miami again until the second last game of the regular season on April 8. The Hawks will meet the Charlotte Hornets in North Carolina for yet another Southeast Division tilt next on Sunday.

Stay tuned.