The Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat faced off on Martin Luther King Day for a matinee game on Monday afternoon. Both teams have been playing well as of late, after having a rollercoaster first half of the season The Hawks have been in headlines probably too much than they desire, and it's all for the wrong reasons. The past two weeks have been full of organizational turmoil, which makes it hard to enjoy the on-court productivity.
Despite what's going on off the court, the Hawks have won three straight games, and look like they may be turning a curve. In the past two games, they’ve had the lead from start to finish, and this game against the Heat was another impressive win for the team.
A common denominator in the last two wins has been the improved play of Dejounte Murray, who’s been playing well as of late after a slight slump through the season. In order for Murray to maximize his talent on the Hawks, it’s playing the passing lanes on defense, getting to his mid-range shot, and attacking the paint on offense. In the first half of the game, Murray was able to do a little bit of all of that:
The Hawks try to put Tyler Herro in the action, but Victor Oladipo does a good job of recovering back to Murray. It doesn't matter, because Murray ends ups draining the mid-range shot:
One of the biggest differences in the improved play of Murray in these last few games has been his three-pointer. In this game, he knocked down 5-of-8, and he looked comfortable taking those shots:
The Hawks led by as much as 26 points in the first half and shot over 70% from the field at one point. The threes were running down as well, and AJ Griffin got him a piece of action from the perimeter. One of the things that make Griffin dangerous is his ability to move swiftly off the ball and find a way to get open:
Going into the half, the Hawks led 70-50 and were impressive on both sides of the ball.
“We know how good Miami is, and we have a lot of respect for them,” Nate McMillan said after the game. “I thought we got off to a good start in the first half and built a pretty good lead. Coming out in the third quarter, the plan was to stay aggressive. We knew that they were going to try to turn up their defense.”
McMillan must have been psychic because though the Heat came out slow to start the second half, they turned it on as the third quarter went on. The Hawks’ hot shooting in the first half cooled down, the Heat forced multiple turnovers and capitalized on them, and they started knocking down shots in the half-court.
What was once a 26-point lead turned into a seven-point lead in the third quarter, and it looked like the Hawks were headed toward a dogfight going into the fourth.
It was a masterclass from Murray in the fourth, as the Heat continued to inch closer and closer, but the Hawks guard wouldn’t surrender the lead. He continued to step into his three-pointers with confidence in the fourth:
Not less than a minute after, Murray keeps the ball from going out of bounds by giving it to Bogdan Bogdanovic. Murray relocates to the corner and Bogdanovic finds him for a wide-open three, and Murray lets the Heat bench know he came to play:
Probably the most impressive shot of the night up by five points, the Hawks were looking for anything to close out the game. After hitting shot after shot in the fourth, Murray came through with a big three with the shot clock running down, and was fouled in the process to increase the Hawks lead with less than two minutes left in the game:
The Heat still didn’t give up after that shot, but the Hawks did just enough to sneak out with the win for their third straight victory. Murray finished with 28 points, four rebounds, and seven assists. Trae Young finished with 24 points, three rebounds, and eight assists. Another positive on the afternoon was the return of Clint Capela, who had previously missed some time due to injury. He came off the bench and finished with 12 points and six rebounds.
“Obviously, we’re trying to be healthy,” Murray said after the game. “Clint's been out and he's a big part of what we’re trying to do here, so it's great to have him back. We've won three games against three good teams. For us, we’ve got to be consistent. I think that's the main thing for us for the rest of the season and just trying to do whatever it takes to win. Me, I’m just trying to stay consistent, find a rhythm, and find a role. At the end of the day, we’ll figure it out.”
The Hawks will be back in action on Wednesday evening to take on the Dallas Mavericks.