The Atlanta Hawks entered Game 3 with the Miami Heat on Friday evening needing a victory to avoid finding themselves working against all of NBA history as to have any hope to threaten winning the first round series. No team in playoff history has come back from a 0-3 deficit to win a series. Considering this is a 1-seed vs. 8-seed series, the mathematical probability would have been beyond the threshold of any remote expectation apart from finding a way to be victorious in Game 3.
It was slipping away in the third quarter as Miami went on a dominant 21-0 run to establish a 16-point lead with two minutes and change left in the period. Atlanta had absolutely nothing working at that point while presumably looking at Trae Young starting the fourth quarter on the bench.
A De’Andre Hunter three-pointer finally stopped the hemorrhaging and initiated a 9-1 scoring edge in the final two minutes of the third frame to get the home team back to within single digits.
Still, starting the final period down eight points, there was little margin for error. When the Heat pushed back to a 14-point lead with 9:06 left to play, things looked extremely bleak for Atlanta.
Hawks head coach Nate McMillan used a timeout to insert Young back into the game and to somehow settle his team. From there they found their footing and managed to get the game to the final possessions.
Down a point Bogdan Bogdanovic secured a rebound after a Jimmy Butler miss with 12 seconds to play and worked the ball to Young who moved up the court and got into the middle of the paint with plenty of room to connect on his patented floater to give his team the lead.
After a timeout, Miami had 4.4 seconds to work for a shot that might give them a decisive win but Hunter dialed up one of his best defensive plays of the season forcing Butler into a missed off-balance jumper.
The Hawks managed an improbable win to keep themselves alive in the series. Should they be able to win game four on Sunday the series would reset to a best of three contest.
The Miami defense continued to stifle Young’s normally prolific offense. But after committing 16 turnovers in games one and two Atlanta’s star point guard found a way to limit his play to three giveaways. And it made all of the difference.
Atlanta had it’s steadiest shooting performance in the series managing 51% from the field and 38% from the three-point line. The Hawks second unit provided an incredibly efficient source of offense generating 40 points on 27 shooting possessions.
The Heat reserves also put up 40 points but it took them 40 shooting possessions to do so. Further encapsulating the disparity in bench play, Atlanta’s best offensive stretches came with both Bam Adebayo and PJ Tucker were off the floor.
Bogdanovic was timely with his shot making and active as a rebounder. Delon Wright gave his team positive play on the margins in his 30 minutes of play.
Oneyka Okongwu, who struggled to make an impact in games one and two, had a dominant fourth quarter. So much so that McMillan had him play the entire fourth frame leaving John Collins on the bench.
Miami converted only two of six shots at the rim in the fourth, thanks to the defense of the second year cente,r but almost won the game on the offensive glass. Thirteen of their 25 points in the final period were on second chance opportunities.
But the home team used the energy of the crowd and the confidence they have playing on their home court to close the game solidly enough to get their most important win of the season.
“Our bench really played well the entire game,” said McMillan in postgame comments. “The first half they came in and gave us a lift. The second half we were hoping for the same after giving up a big third quarter. And they did. I thought Delon, Bogi, and Big O were great in this game tonight on both ends of the floor. Not only defending and rebounding the basketball. But creating that movement and finishing the game for us.”
“Our backs were against the wall and one thing we talked about was being calm in that fourth quarter,” he said about his team’s ability to find a way to steady themselves late in the game. “The fourth quarter I thought our guys took a deep breath and got back to calm.”
“I didn’t think I took care of the ball in game two,” Young said reflecting on his improved performance. “I just wanted to come in here and take care of the ball. At least give our team a shot on the offensive end.”
“I just wanted to play the right way,” he continued. “The first two games to have to really battle and get into the position we were in I think really wore on us. I think tonight we should when we take care of the ball we can play.”
Young led all Hawks scorers with 24 points while adding eight assists. Hunter had some ugly moments, a few untimely turnovers included, but managed an important 17 points in support of his point guard.
Kevin Huerter was just one for eight from the arc but put together 13 points, five rebounds and four assists.
Bogdanovic made numerous shots when the game was essentially one the line as the Heat tried to close the door on Atlanta. He finished with 18 points, eight rebounds, six assists, and two steals.
Wright contributed 13 points, on a perfect shooting performance, and five boards. Okongwu had nine points, six rebounds, and two blocks.
For Miami, Tyler Herro led all scorers with 24 points, matching the output of Young. In reserve play he also managed seven rebounds and four assists.
Butler had 20 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists and two steals while Bam Adebayo put up 13 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, and three steals.
Let’s take a look at some of the action.
Atlanta started with some sluggish play on the defensive end seeming a step slow on their first several possessions:
Potential help from the weak was late as Adebayo slipped to the rim for an uncontested dunk.
The Hawks are late here also in effort to contain the dribble penetration of Butler:
It leads to an and-one.
Hunter is active and alert here as he recognizes Max Strus, the weakest defender in the Miami starting unit, alone at the rim:
He cuts to the rim and creates a passing lane for Young.
Young gets his first bucket when he is able to attack before Miami can set it’s defense:
Once again Strus is targeted.
Atlanta made an intentional effort to stay away from drawing Adebayo onto Young, via switch, in the game. Here a rare match up leads to a turnover and a transition three for Miami:
With the Heat continuing to load their defense high and middle as to contain Young, one adjustment the Hawks made was to consistently put a shooter in the near corner and have Young drive at the seam.
The goal is to force the defender to choose to stay in the corner, thus opening a driving seam for Young, or to come away from the corner as to open up the corner three:
Huerter missed on this possession but Atlanta would keep working this and find timely success in the second half.
Bogdanovic was working the corner-seam action also
Hunter draws Herro on to the left block for an opportunity to attack the mismatch:
Wright brought a ton of energy in the game. Here is but one example:
Wright continues to bring energy as he attacks the Kyle Lowry closeout before the full Miami defense is set:
As Miami continues to use multiple defenders on Young in the middle of the floor, Collins gets a chance to work in the short roll and it leads to a Danilo Gallinari three:
In the second half Atlanta really starts targeting Lowry:
Here Collins is able to collapse the defense which leads to a kick out three for Hunter.
As the Heat are in the middle of their enormous run, Atlanta tries to get organized on defense but they struggle to defend without fouling:
Live ball turnovers aren’t going to help you end the run the other team is making:
Finally, a corner three by Hunter gets the Hawks back on the board:
Adebayo finally gets another turn matching up with Young, but this one leads to a three-point play:
After Lowry left with an injury (not to return) Miami had a little trouble as they lost some lineup continuity:
They have four defenders up toward Young instead of three and it opens a path to the rim for Wright.
Atlanta starts working on Duncan Robinson early in the fourth quarter:
On the other end, a long three by Robinson puts the Heat up 14 points:
Okongwu starts making a significant impact on the game:
The put-back score is huge for Atlanta, set up by Bogdanovic pushing the pace.
Another critical bucket by Okongwu:
Young gets back to attacking the corner-seam:
Leads to a Bogdanovic three.
Young finally works past Tucker:
.Herro can’t handle Okongwu on the glass:
Hawks up by three.
Atlanta contains Butler for a critical stop:
Young gets the floater to go for the lead:
Hunter gets the stop for the win:
Game 4 will take place on Sunday at State Farm Arena. Tip is scheduled for 7 pm ET.