The Atlanta Hawks kicked off their stretch run with a 115-111 home loss against the Miami Heat — the extremely shorthanded Miami Heat. Oh, boy… Let’s just get stuck right into it.
The worst loss of the year
I feel pretty comfortable saying that this was the worst loss that the Hawks have suffered this season. I mentioned that the Heat were shorthanded, maybe that was an understatement. They were without Chris Bosh (please get well soon, Chris Bosh. The NBA needs you on the court), Dwayne Wade, Tyler Johnson, and Hassan Whiteside. Bob Rathbun mentioned on the broadcast that 55% of the Heat’s offense was missing last night — and the Hawks still found a way to lose.
Sure, the Hawks were without Tiago Splitter (who is now done for the season), but everyone else was healthy and rested. You could argue that it’s just rust, since the Hawks haven’t played since Wednesday February 10th, but it was the exact same story for the Heat. In fact, the Heat haven’t played since last Tuesday and their lineup that day was completely different to the one that played the Hawks.
Those who suited up for the Heat played their heart out. Inspired, season high performances from Luol Deng (30 points, 11 rebounds) and Josh McRoberts (19 points, 10 assists) willed the Heat to victory. It also willed the Heat fans in attendance at Philips Arena — the “Let’s go Heat” chants as Goran Dragic was shooting free throws near the end were so loud. It was amazing how loud those Heat fans were, and they had every right to be. They deserved this victory An inexplicable loss for the Hawks.
Miami wins season series — potentially large implications
With last night’s victory, the Heat won the season series 3-1 and the potential implications of this series win going forward could be huge. It would appear as though both of these teams will be contending for the final home court seed (4th) in the East, and if these two teams finished the season with identical records the Heat will be the ones that secure home court advantage at the Hawks’ expense. Again, it may not matter if the Heat/Hawks have the better record outright, but in any tie situation this loss could be decisive.
Miami’s big fourth quarter, poor Hawks defense
The Heat poured out 36 fourth quarter points, led by Luol Deng’s 12, but they got help from all across the board — Dragic added eight points, and McRoberts added eight points and five assists in a pivotal fourth quarter.
There were some critical possessions in the fourth quarter where the Hawks just played poor defense, and we’re going to look at some film and break it down — just like the Hawks defense broke down.
The score is tied at 98 apiece with just over four minutes remaining in the game. At this point of the game, Luol Deng has 24 points — making him the obvious threat that the Hawks should defend. Right?
The defense is just a mess. Three players, it takes three players apparently, to shut off the rookie Justise Winslow from the basket. Winslow passes the ball to McRoberts (who Millsap left to protect the rim), and a nice pass from McRoberts finds the wide open Luol Deng, who could’ve passed the wide open Dragic if he wanted to, but instead knocks down the open three-pointer. Al Horford, who was guarding Deng on this possession, felt it was necessary to leave the player with 24 points on 9-of-13 shooting wide open to help on McRoberts, who Millsap had left, but had covered once McRoberts received the ball from Winslow. And you see the end result, a wide open three-pointer.
A defensive breakdown.
Let’s have a look at another.
What is that?? Kent Bazemore isn’t paying attention at all to Goran Dragic, he looks to his left, and Dragic just blows by him while he’s not looking for the easy two and the foul. It’s a three point game with with just over three minutes remaining, why isn’t Bazemore more focused? It wasn’t just this play, he looked out of sorts for the whole game. Such a poor basket to concede in the fourth quarter, and all of a sudden it’s a six point game once Dragic makes the ‘and one’ free throw.
And finally, this, this pretty much killed the game. I mean, just watch.
Deng has 27 points at this stage and once again he is just left wide, wide open in the corner. It’s also not like the Hawks were short of bodies in the paint — all five of the Hawks were drawn into the paint by the penetrating run of Dragic because, once again, Bazemore is completely helpless as he again turns his head away from the play and Dragic burns him.
I mean, come on Bazemore. You’ve just given up an ‘and one’ for doing the same thing. Bazemore has his head on a swivel and, with the amount of times he looked around, surely identified that there was no screen coming. But, alas, he looks away again and Dragic blows by him again. But that wasn’t even the worst thing about this play. Just have a look at this next picture — this is after Dragic has got by Bazemore and is now in the paint:
Wow. You can see Dragic is caught up in a Hawks sandwich in the middle of the paint, and look at how many defenders he has attracted — he has attracted the ENTIRE Hawks defense, and look what it has opened up. Three Heat players are wide open on the wings and the top of the key, and even Winslow is semi-open underneath the basket. I have to give Dragic credit here, he completely collapsed the Hawks’ defense and made the right play in finding the wide open Deng for a long two.
What is this, Atlanta? Bazemore is beaten by Dragic and EVERYONE has to rotate and stop him?
Hawks unwillingness to attack the paint/exploit Miami’s weakness
Without Hassan Whiteside, the Heat have very few/if any players to really protect the paint. With Chris Bosh also missing out, and Amar’e Stoudemire, Udonis Haslem, and Luol Deng as the power forwads/centers, you would think the Hawks would make a massive effort to exploit the the Heat’s interior weakness. But they didn’t — instead it was the Heat who poured in 50 points in the paint compared to Atlanta’s 38.
Jeff Teague did a good job of attacking the paint — finishing with 12 points in the paint and repeatedly punished Justise Winslow when he was guarded by the rookie. You can’t really blame Dennis Schroder for not attacking the rim as much last night, his shot was actually falling so, personally, I have no issues with him not attacking the rim as much last night because his shot was falling.
Paul Millsap and Al Horford, however, have to be more aggressive in attacking weaker interior defenses. Millsap should’ve been backing down Deng/Haslem/Winslow more than he did. The same goes for Horford. I mean, come on. When you’re guarded by Amar’e Stoudemire you need to exploit that advantage and the Hawks didn’t. They should’ve comprehensively outscored Miami in the paint, rather than being outscored there by 12 points.
Free throw difference
The Heat converted 19 of their 28 free throw attempts, and although the Hawks hit 100% of their free throws, they only attempted 13 in total. The second half was where the real difference lay when it came to free throws — the Heat converted 11-of-16 while the Hawks shot ONE free throw. Just ONE free throw attempt in the second half. This kind of picks up from where the last point left off. There is no excuse for shooting just one free throw when the Hawks are playing against a much weaker interior defense.
Coach Bud believed the free throw difference definitely hurt the Hawks last night (Via the AJC quoteboard):
“I think only one free throw for us in the second half hurt us. Offensively, we got 111 (points) and played pretty well. Only one free throw in the second half, we have to be more aggressive.”
The Hawks committed 21 turnovers last night and the Heat punished them for their carelessness, scoring 22 points off of those turnovers. So many silly turnovers for the Hawks, the Hawks just didn’t look together. One incredible instance in the first half of a silly turnover: the ball is being inbounded in the backcourt, Muscala has the ball and the five second clock is ticking. Meanwhile Dennis Schroder is tying his shoe, and Muscala has to inbound the ball otherwise it’s a turnover. Schroder finishes tying his shoe, jumps to catch the ball, Josh Richardson intercepts the inbound pass and slams it home. In a four point loss, something so silly as that came back to haunt the Hawks in the end.
The Heat deserve a lot of credit — they came in undermanned and they showed more heart, more hustle, better execution and they were rewarded. Paul Millsap put it best last night:
“At some point, we have to produce. We’ve got to win the game no matter what the circumstances are. We just have to get it done.”
At some point, yes. But is this “point” ever coming?