De’Andre Hunter led the Hawks in scoring with 24 points, John Collins added 11 points. For the Miami Heat — playing without Kyle Lowry — Jimmy Butler scored 36 points while P.J. Tucker and Bam Adebayo both added 14 points.
Where to start with this one...
Well, things were going well for the Hawks in the second quarter initially as the second unit found some momentum but the Heat reeled two separate runs in the second quarter to turn an eight point deficit into a double-digit lead: a 15-0 run and then an 11-0 run to end the quarter.
In the third, the Hawks initially sliced the lead but the Heat responded and another 9-0 run put them firmly back in control before things got out of hand in the fourth quarter.
The Heat scored 110 points on 43.5% shooting and we’ll get to why this was the case but the Hawks mustered just 86 points on 40% shooting in a must-win game. Everyone not named Hunter essentially struggled to either shoot the ball or make an impact. Trae Young scored just nine points on 3-of-11 shooting from the field, Bogdan Bogdanovic scored just four points on 1-of-6 shooting, Kevin Huerter scored four points on 1-of-7 shooting and Danilo Gallinari scored nine points.
Only Hunter and Collins 24 points on 9-of-13 shooting from the field and 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting — registered double-digit scoring. At home. In a must-win game.
Now, it would be easy to pile against the Hawks but the reality of this was the Heat’s defensive execution rose to another level: they absolutely stifled the Hawks.
Let’s start with Young, who scored nine point but perhaps more notably Young only attempted one field goal inside the arc:
This wasn’t exclusive to Young but the Heat did a fantastic job of preventing penetration and forcing the Hawks to settle. There were many examples of this for the Hawks last night, let’s look at some of these instances.
Here, Young actually drives into Caleb Martin when Martin wasn’t actually looking at Young initially and the ball is turned over:
At the end of the first quarter, Young is guarded by Martin and finds himself unable to find a way inside and is forced to settle for a three-point attempt:
Extremely hard for Young to drive inside here when you have both Tyler Herro and Gabe Vincent helping to prevent Young from turning the corner.
On the rare occasion Young was able to get inside he was either forced to pass or, on this play, Martin steps in front of him to draw the charge (Young’s pass was going to be unsuccessful anyways):
Out front — between the double screen the Hawks present to Young — the Heat basically have three players to guard Young off of any direction he decides to move and Young settles for a missed three-pointer which is contested by Tucker on the switch:
On the screen, the Heat throw a second defender on Young near the sideline and when Young gets rid of the ball it sails through Hunter’s fingers and out of bounds:
Again, the Heat swarm and prevent the penetration inside here on Bogdanovic on this occasion, forcing the Hawks to look outside for offense and Delon Wright’s three-pointer is offline as the shotclock winds down:
I think you get the idea.
The Heat’s defense forced the Hawks into a lot of tough shots, and a lot of three-point shots. Of the Hawks’ 75 field goal attempts, 42 of those were three-pointers, the Hawks making 15 of them (though, four of those makes came from Kevin Knox in garbage time). The Hawks only connected on 30 field goals in total, meaning only 15 of those were two point attempts leading to just 26 points in the paint.
On the Heat’s side of matters, offensively they weren’t stellar in terms of their shot creation, certainly in the half-court. That said, they swung the game offensively with both their second chance scoring and their lack of turnovers/Atlanta’s turnovers.
Starting with the turnovers, this was one of the reasons the Hawks were somewhat limited to just 75 field goal attempts, committing 15 turnovers leading to 25 Miami points. In contrast, the Heat committed just six turnovers on the night.
Where the Heat also gained ground in terms of field goal attempts disparity (attempting 92 shots to the Hawks’ 75) was their offensive rebounding and second chance scoring — the Heat just owned the Hawks on the glass, snatching 15 offensive rebounds leading to 26 second chance points; the same as the Hawks registered in the paint.
Those areas of the game did not help but postgame the focus was all on the Heat’s defense and how the Hawks were forced to settle.
“They were solid all night long,” said Hawks head coach Nate McMillan of the Heat. “Basically kept us on the perimeter. We weren’t able to get into the paint, only 26 points in the paint. I thought we settled a lot early in the first half, perimeter jumpshots as opposed to attacking the pressure. You have to attack the pressure, get into the paint, force said defense to collapse and that should open up something on the perimeter. We didn’t do that enough and when we did we get to the free throw line and we miss nine free throws.”
“They had a lot of pressure tonight,” added Young of the Heat’s defense. “They brought the pressure and we didn’t match it, didn’t make shots, didn’t play well. That was the result of it.”
The Hawks, has McMillan mentioned, missed a lot of opportunities at the free throw line, shooting 11-of-20 from the line. I don’t think it particularly mattered in the grand scheme of things in this game but it certainly didn’t help.
Prior to garbage time, the Hawks actually shot 26-of-66 from the field and McMillan wanted his side to do a better job of attacking the Heat’s pressured defense.
“They’re good, they’re a good defensive team and basically with them playing small-ball they were able to get even more pressure out on the floor,” McMillan chuckled postgame. “Vincent basically picked Trae up the entire night. They kept pressure on the ball, tried to force the ball out of Trae’s hand and they pressured all of our guards. We’ve got to do a better job attacking that pressure and not playing on our heels.”
“All of our guys, you’ve got to move their defense,” added McMillan. “If you’re just trying to play against their switching you’re playing into their hands. You’ve got to get the ball reversed to the weak-side and attack their close-outs. They were switching and we went into isolation mode and settled on the perimeter. You’ve got to get them moving and play in your third, fourth, fifth option and we were playing probably in our first and second option: one pass and a shot. Not enough movement in our offense.”
Even just watching the two sides it was very clear which team was executing their game-plan and which team were not: the Heat were incredibly precise in a lot of their defensive execution. They showed precisely why they are a 1-seed, finding a way to convincingly win without a key player like Kyle Lowry. Butler was fantastic for the Heat, matching the Hawks’ entire free throw tally himself with 11 free throws.
Speaking of key personnel, the Hawks welcomed one of theirs back in Game 4 as Clint Capela returned to the starting lineup. Capela played just under 21 minutes on his return and found himself a bit winded at times but was pleased to simply be with his teammates on the court.
“My legs were obviously tired, felt a little bit out of rhythm,” said Capela postgame. “I was really happy to be out there with my teammates, just help them, even though I knew I wasn’t 100%. It just felt good to be out there with the guys grinding.”
Capela looked fine out on the court but it was apparent that both himself and John Collins were playing injured, as well as Young who rolled his foot in the first half.
Capela offered an interesting, more long term perspective on Young’s struggles against this Heat defense. Young is averaging 16.5 points on 35% shooting from the field and 21% from three on eight attempts while averaging both six turnovers and assists.
“He’s trying to figure it out,” said Capela on Young facing the Heat’s defense. “He’s still young, he’s just trying to figure it out game after game. I know defensively they’ve been really aggressive and making his job hard. You just learn from that, from this series. Like I was telling him, in the playoffs it takes years — when you look at teams — to really take a step like the Bucks and Warriors it took them years to really figure it out.”
“If you watch the game you see they have five people inside the paint when I had the ball,” said Young of his limited scoring inside. “They’re doing a great job of showing help and not letting me getting to the paint. When I’m driving, if I try drive by somebody they send the double and forcing me to kick it to my teammates. I took 11 shots, probably took a couple of forced ones at the end and I really didn’t get too many clean ones. Got to give them credit, we’ve got to do a better job of figuring out how to get some more open looks and get them off me early so I can create not only for myself but for my teammates too.”
The Hawks will obviously need a huge Young game to keep their season alive as it faces elimination in Miami. Not just from Young mind you, the supporting cast simply has to show up: Bogdanovic, Huerter and Gallinari particularly after their Game 4 struggles, while another Hunter game like they received last night would be of enormous benefit. I don’t think the Hawks were awful more so than the Heat were great, though the boxscore would obviously disagree.
Now trailing 3-1, the Hawks are very much up against it but are still confident they can extend the series.
“We’re still confident,” said Hunter. “They’re up 3-1, we know what the series is but we’re never going to lose confidence. We still have another game to play, another two, three games to play. We’re still confident. They won today but we still have more games to play.”
The Hawks’ season comes down to Game 5 in Miami, which takes place on Tuesday night. Win or go home.
Until next time...