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Hawks dominate rebounding battle to confirm playoff spot in victory over Heat

An impressive victory in Miami sets up a first round series against the Celtics.

2023 Play-In Tournament - Atlanta Hawks v Miami Heat Photo by Eric Espada/NBAE via Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks triumphed over the Miami Heat in their play-in fixture to secure their place in the 2023 NBA Playoffs with a 116-105 victory at Kaseya Center.

Trae Young led the way with 25 points to go with eight rebounds and seven assists, with Dejounte Murray adding 18 points. For the Heat, Kyle Lowry scored 33 points off the bench, Tyler Herro added 26 points.

The Hawks’ — and Trae Young’s — recent history in this fixture in this building is well documented and the Heat would have been rightly considered favorites heading into the contest. Which made the Hawks’ first half all the more surprising as they ran out to a 24 point lead.

The Heat made a run to end the first half and to begin the second half and brought it to a four point game but the Hawks had a response in them to push the lead back to double-digits and, in the end, it the Hawks weren’t threatened down the stretch of this game before confirming their place in the playoffs with a double-digit victory.

“I wanted us to compete,” said Hawks head coach Quin Snyder. “There’s some things that we’ve been trying to do that wanted to do more of. They’re a hard team for us to defend, they’re really physical and they’re even harder to score against. I thought one of the keys for us was second actions and moving the ball. That’s hard to do when you’ve got Bam switching in pick-and-roll and spreading out in front of you. It’s not easy but I think we stayed together. It wasn’t always pretty but we kept playing and kept executing. Over the course of the game that payed off for us.”

Execution and preparation was intense for the Hawks in the build-up to this game, as Dejounte Murray outlined postgame.

“We came out and I feel like just on the plane ride here you see everyone locked in,” said Murray. “No BS all the way to shootaround, guys are inside. Shootaround was great and then it led to the pre-game and the execution and attention to detail. The coaches were throwing us a lot but at the end of the day this is our job so you’ve got to take it all in and go out and execute it, and we went and did that. This win feels really great not only we’re going to the playoffs through all the drama and BS this whole season but the fact we controlled the game together for the whole 48 minutes.”

One aspect that helped the Hawks in the first half was the play of their bench, who were fantastic in that first half, scoring 35 points in the first half between Saddiq Bey (11 points), Bogdan Bogdanovic (10 points), Onyeka Okongwu (10 points) and Jalen Johnson (four points).

Okongwu in particular was fantastic and when the Heat went to a smaller lineup with Kevin Love at the five, any pick-and-roll situation opened things up for Okongwu, like on this possession where Okongwu is able to punish Lowry inside:

When the Heat would blitz a screen, the Hawks moved the ball well, with Okongwu slipping the screen before finding Saddiq Bey on the cut to the rim:

Bey scored 17 points in total, hitting three three-pointers including this one in the second half after a great find from Young behind his back:

Bogdanovic finished with 14 points and while he shot 2-of-8 from three, this was one of the threes he made last night and it came at a good time for the Hawks as they stretched their advantage:

Even with Johnson’s four first half points being obviously less than the others he had a significant contribution.

Here, Johnson relocates to the corner before receiving the ball, driving from the three point line, euro-steps to avoid the charge attempt from Love and finishes at the rim:

The Hawks seemed much better prepared for dealing with situations where Young would see and extra body, and Johnson immediately attacks the gap and finds the rolling Okongwu for the lob:

“There’s a lot of singular players on a team but the strength of this team is becoming even more of a team, that’s what we want to do,” said Snyder. “That’s what we want our play to demonstrate.”

On the other end of the floor in the first half, defensively there were some breaks the Hawks caught. Before the game I wrote about how the Heat excelled in fastbreak situations in the season-series. The Heat had good opportunities in transition in the first half but missed a number of opportunities, both from Atlanta’s defense and the Heat missing good looks, a number of them from three (where the Hawks were always better off allowing the Heat to try and ignite from than get to the rim).

In transition, the Heat get a decent look at a three through Herro, but is missed:

After a deep three-point miss from Young, the Heat get out in transition and again Herro gets an open look but again misses:

On the run, Young and Murray do a better job deterring Butler from going to the rim and Butler’s offloads to the trailing Max Strus, who misses the open three:

Again, the Heat miss another transition three, this one through Caleb Martin:

A number of good looks missed from the Heat but the Hawks did well defensively too.

Here, the Hawks help force Herro to pass out of his three and find Love for a wild three that goes wide:

As Lowry probes in transition, the Hawks close off the road to the rim and force Lowry to settle from three:

In the end, the Heat shot 11-of-34 from three — 32.4%.

The bench was the story for the Hawks in the first half but in the second half it was the Hawks’ second chance scoring that helped them withstand the Heat’s comeback.

The Hawks grabbed eight offensive rebounds in the first half but didn’t fully punish the Heat in those second chance opportunities, scoring nine points. In the second half the Hawks snatched 14 offensive rebounds leading to 21 second chance points.

Clint Capela was absolutely fantastic on the boards, securing 21 in total and eight offensive rebounds, including this one in the second half where he was able to finish himself on the second chance:

And this great offensive rebound above Bam Adebayo to find the cutting Bogdanovic for the rare slam dunk:

Capela wasn’t alone in this rebounding battle, Saddiq Bey grabbed four offensive rebounds (though, three of those came on one possession but did score on his other offensive rebound):

Jalen Johnson also secured three offensive rebounds, scoring on the reverse after this three-point miss:

And then with a little more emphasis after the miss from Young:

“We were the more physical team tonight,” said Trae Young postgame. “That was the big emphasis tonight, just being more physical. We played faster, didn’t let them set up on defense and get on half court. We were playing more in attack mode and transition and it helped.”

In the end, the rebound battle/second chance scoring was the single biggest swinging factor in deciding this game: the Hawks out-rebounding the Heat 63-39 and scoring a total of 26 second chance points to the Heat’s six, while also scoring just 12 fastbreak points, five less than the Hawks on the night.

“Shout out to Clint, he’s been great all year,” said Dejounte Murray postgame when asked about the rebounding.

The Hawks shooting 10-of-41 from three in some ways helped the Hawks’ rebounding/second chance scoring — a pretty rough percentage from three at 24% but they did a great job following up on those misses: a 39% offensive rebound percentage.

In addition, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo have absolutely dominated this matchup all season long but their influence last night was minimal compared to the regular season.

Butler scored 21 points on 6-of-19 shooting from the field, his point total propped up by shooting 9-of-11 at the free throw line. Butler was able to garner fouls but struggled finishing at the rim and missed some good opportunities himself. He was also thwarted by Capela on a couple of occasions as well:

While we’re at it, can’t mention blocks without mentioning this one from Okongwu:

One of four blocks from Okongwu, all coming in the second half.

Coming back to Adebayo, the Heat couldn’t get him involved in the mid pick-and-roll where he was so good against the Hawks. And when he did get opportunities in the paint he couldn’t always get the shot to fall, scoring 12 points on 5-of-12 shooting from the field.

Capela absolutely dominated the center matchup with Okongwu doing a fantastic job too, with Johnson and John Collins doing great jobs in their roles too.

Trae Young finally enjoyed a game where he wasn’t stifled by the Heat’s defense, scoring 25 points on 8-of-18 from the field, the majority of those misses being three-point misses as Young shot 1-of-8 from three.

Young had help this time around, not just from the bench (who totalled 53 points) but Dejounte Murray came to life in the second half where he scored 11 of his 18 points, his baskets coming at key times in the game when the Heat were trying to whittle down the lead.

De’Andre Hunter struggled with foul trouble (playing 22 minutes) and his shot (2-of-9) but with a lot of fantastic efforts off the bench — as well as Butler’s struggles at times — it wasn’t as costly as it might have otherwise been.

If the Hawks hadn’t shot 16-of-27 (59%) from the free throw line this would have been an even more comfortable victory for the visitors, who were, in the end, well worth their victory and given the opponent and location that was a surprise.

The Hawks now move to the 7-seed, booking that spot with this victory but they’re certainly not going to celebrate making up the numbers in the playoffs.

“What’s there to celebrate?” asked Young when asked if the Hawks will celebrate winning the play-in. “That’s cool, we made the playoffs. A couple of us on the team I’m happy for like Vit, guys like Saddiq who have never been in the playoffs, some of the other rookies like AJ and guys who it’s their first time to experience the playoffs. I’ve been in the playoffs three times and a couple of guys have been in way more than I have, guys like Clint. It’s cool to be in the playoffs but you want to win games in the playoffs, you don’t want to just be here.”

The Hawks set themselves up for a first-round series against the Boston Celtics, who swept the season-series 3-0 (though, one of those games was the last game of the regular season: a complete write-off).

Game 1 tips off in Boston on Saturday afternoon at TD Garden.

Should be an entertaining fixture.

Until next time...