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Rough Game 1 leaves Heat searching for answers

By Matt Winkeljohn, for
Posted Apr 20 2009 6:37AM

ATLANTA -- Who said there was no room left in the first round of the NBA Playoffs for the unexpected?

Even after visitors won four of the first six NBA Playoff games this weekend to nearly erase the notion of postseason "surprise," the Heat and Hawks Sunday combined for a shocker anyway.

Atlanta's 90-64 win in Philips Arena was just two points shy of being the most lopsided result of all Playoff openers, and the Hawks did it without anyone dominating, unless you count all Josh Smith's alley-oop dunks on the way to 23 points.

The surprise in this? A series that was a popular pick to be most competitive was instead nearly a wire-to-wire blowout.

There were few signs in Philips Arena that the Heat will be able to compete down the road (or at home, where Atlanta split two regular-season games).

Beyond a slew of out-of-whack statistics, there were interesting what's-wrong-with-this-picture postgame assessments.

The Heat's Dwyane Wade, who you might say has earned the right to call out teammates when they lay eggs, instead said things like, "We had an off night shooting the ball," and, "It's Game 1, best of seven."

By way of contrast, Michael Beasley, whom you might expect to mind his P's and Q's as most rookies do, offered a summation more in line with what a crowd of 18,851 saw. "We had no energy," he said. "We acted like we didn't want to play ... from rebounds, to shots, to loose balls ... they just came out like they wanted to run us over."

Nevermind that Wade and Udonis Haslem are the only remaining regulars from Miami's 2006 NBA championship team. The Hawks aren't exactly Playoff graybeards, bowing out of the first round last year when they made their first playoff appearance since 1997-98.

That didn't keep the Hawks from running over the Heat in every way.

Atlanta outscored Miami 18-4 in fast-break points, 46-30 in the paint, had six players finish in double figures (to two for Miami) and outrebounded the Heat by 15.

Atlanta picked up where it left off last April, when the Hawks took the eventual champions to seven games by whipping the Celtics three straight times in Philips.

The Arena was frenzied again Sunday, and the Hawks fed off that.

"I just thought tonight our focus was there from beginning all the way to the end. The defensive schemes were right on the money," said Hawks coach Mike Woodson. "I said from day one in training camp, the Boston Celtics taught us how to play Playoff basketball last year."

Several of Wade's teammates had better figure out that recipe quick.

He was nearly an island unto himself, scoring a team-high 19 points. He led Miami with five assists as well, and his energy was unmatched by teammates.

That was a big problem.

As the Hawks played basketball as a team sport, with 23 assists and every starter and reserve center Zaza Pachulia scoring in double figures, Wade was left to play as if the rest of his team was still in Miami. Atlanta led 59-39 at halftime.

Wade had so little help that no teammate reached double figures until Beasley -- who did not start as James Jones made his second start of the season in place of ailing small forward Jamario Moon (groin) -- scored on a jumper with 10:12 left in the game.

That pulled the visitors to "within" 80-59.

By that time, Wade had his five assists. Three teammates had combined for six dimes beyond that. The Heat finished with 12 assists, a scant one in a fourth quarter that saw them score just seven points.

Miami missed 45 shots, but grabbed just five offensive rebounds.

Bad numbers were scattered across the stat sheet, but nothing was worse than the repeated sight of Josh Smith throwing down one alley-oop after another.

"That was one of the myriad things where we seemed to be slow," said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra. "Maybe that's what happens when another team is exceeding your energy, things start to stall in the mind. He was just running right by us."

No Miami strategy worked.

Spoelstra started Jones, "to have a little more space on the court, and try to spread the floor with some 3-point shooting."

The Heat made just 4-of-23 3-point shots (Jones 1-of-3).

For nearly all Miami's attempts at spacing, the Hawks switched under screens so effectively that Wade only on a few occasions found his path to the basket unimpeded.

Atlanta did a sterling job filling Wade's would-be passing lanes in most of those situations.

He made just 8-of- 21 shots (38.1 percent), and still outshot the rest of the Heat (a combined 18-of-50, or 36 percent). "They've got some athletic, long guys, and ... they did a good job of staying in front of us, making us take tough shots," Wade reported.

Hawks guard Mike Bibby (10 points, nine rebounds): "This might have been the best game we played all season. I've always been saying, if we play defense like that, we're one of the top teams in the league."

Heat players weren't arguing, at least not afterward.

Haslem (six points, five rebounds) threw a bit of a fit during one timeout, and Jermaine O'Neal (five points, two rebounds, three turnovers in 21 minutes) appeared unamused with his drop in playing time in order to get Beasley on the floor.

"I think we froze a little bit offensively," Haslem said. "We know the level we've got to play at, and I guarantee the next game we're going to come with a lot more energy. Win or lose, we're going do a lot better than 64 points."

Spoelstra, whose playoff debut as a rookie coach was forgettable, didn't make guarantees. He was more about wishful thinking.

"We have a couple days to come up with some answers and bounce back Wednesday," the coach said. "[For] a lot of us, it's our first experience. The good thing is it only counts as one. We should understand the intensity level now that this series is being played at."

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