By Matt Winkeljohn, for NBA.com
Posted Apr 23 2009 9:52AM
ATLANTA -- As Pat Riley made his way down a hall Wednesday night, ambling casually past the Atlanta Hawks' locker room, the Miami Heat president could hardly stop smiling.
His team had just flipped the script big time, yet it was his wife who was absolutely on point.
"Mission accomplished," Chris Riley said to bus-bound Heat players.
Back in sync with a bang (or the 15 3-pointers the Heat bombed the Hawks with in a 108-93 win so decisive that Atlanta's 90-64 Game 1 laugher seemed forgotten), Miami may have ruined the Hawks' body of regular-season work in Philips Arena.
Home-court edge to the Heat, who got what they really came to Atlanta for: a split of the first two games.
And much as it was Chris and not Pat Riley who delivered the bottom-line summation, Miami's supporting cast was chiefly culpable.
Make no mistake, Dwyane Wade was largely transcendent, scoring a game-high 33 points, including 6-of-10 treys, but Miami's "X-factors" -- plural, for sure -- were the difference.
Wade can keep playing like that (he finished just above his NBA-leading 30.2-point regular-season average Wednesday), and his team can lose this series.
But they might just win if Jermaine O'Neal keeps playing like that (19 points, six rebounds, three assists and four blocked shots), and the Heat's bench stays hot.
Who among you didn't subscribe to the popular pre-Playoff rhetoric suggesting that Miami doesn't have the manpower past Wade to hang with the Hawks over a seven-game series?
Wrap your head around these numbers: Bench scoring -- Heat 37, Hawks 20; bench rebounding -- Heat 19, Hawks 6.
Hard to say what was more critical, O'Neal approximating the player the NBA knew a few years ago before a slew of injuries befell him, or Daequan Cook re-discovering the pre-All Star game shooting stroke.
He made 6-of-9 treys, and finished with 20 points, more than every Hawk, four more than Atlanta superstar Joe Johnson.
"He's a guy who to me can be the X-factor in the series," said Miami forward Udonis Haslem, who hit a couple huge jumpers late to stave off a brief Atlanta charge. "If he can play well, it can be a pretty good series for us."
Cook made 41.1 percent of his 3-pointers before the All-Star break, where he won the NBA's long-ball contest, but just 33 percent after.
He claims never to have lost faith, and said the fact he didn't wear his customary "sleeve" Wednesday on his ailing right -- shooting -- shoulder had nothing to do with his stroke.
Rather, Cook said a pep talk from Wade, extra practice and a better mindset added up to a big difference.
"Oh yeah. I was in rhythm. My first two shots, I was telling myself in my head it's going to be a long night ... for the defenders, no question," said Cook, who missed all five of his three-pointers in Game 1, when he scored two points.
"[Wade] told me to stay focused and keep shooting. He made a big point about how [Boston's] Ray Allen went one for 12 [in Game 1 against Chicago], and then had a big game [going for 30, including a game-winning trey in Game 2]."
Moving past the eight rebounds taken by Miami reserve Jamario Moon, and the 12 points, seven rebounds and three assists by rookie Michael Beasley off the bench, lets move back to the middle.
Where O'Neal played the exquisite centerpiece.
In the first quarter, he scored six points, grabbed three rebounds and had two assists. Miami moved to a 24-18 lead as Heat coach Erik Spoelstra called his number on purpose.
"We were playing off him, through him," the coach said. "He was very patient, understanding the balance between patience and being aggressive, making the right play. That allowed us to get into some other things that opened up our offense."
The Hawks never adjusted. They trailed 54-41 at the half, and never seemed to tap into the energy of Philips as in Game 1.
"We played desperate tonight, in terms of how we defended," said Hawks coach Mike Woodson, whose team saw Miami make 40 of 72 shots after missing 45 of 71 in Game 1. "I thought we were more relaxed in Game 1, and stayed with the plan."
O'Neal, who said he can -- with requisite offseason work to strengthen the knee and leg that's bothered him -- return to All-Star form, warmed to his different role as a facilitator.
Extra grunting and groaning on the second off day didn't hurt, either.
"We had two really good practices, and a really good weight session [Tuesday], which is kind of rare to lift the way we lifted," he said. "That makes you feel strong, makes you feel invincible. From the guards to the big guys we got in there and got it done."
After being out-rebounded by 15 in Game 1, the Heat beat the Hawks 40-33 on the boards Wednesday.
They had a mere two second-chance points Sunday.
Wednesday, they had seven in the first quarter, and 19 overall.
The Hawks hurt themselves, missing 11 of 30 free throws and 14 of 20 3-pointers as their top two shooters struggled.
Johnson made just five of 13 as Haslem said it was the Heat's goal to make it tough for him to even catch the ball. Flip Murray scored 15 points off Atlanta's bench, but made just four of 15 shots.
And then there was the Alpha player, Wade. He sets tempo on and off the floor. He added seven of Miami's 23 assists.
"More than anything I knew he was ready for the game when before I talked to the team right before the game," Spoelstra said. "There was some joking and laughing in the locker room, and I heard him tell everybody to shut up and get their minds on the game."
Wade, who may have forced too many drives on the way to 19 points in Game 1, was content to shoot from afar Wednesday.
But he wasn't as near perfect as it might have seemed.
With the shot clock winding down, the Hawks within seven, and a defender in his jersey, he threw up a 29-footer with 2:38 left in the game.
Bonk! Swish! ... three the hard way.
When he assisted Cook's shot clock-beating 3-pointer for a 104-91 lead with 1:42 to go on the next possession, it was over.
"It was a good shot," Cook said after the game with a smile to rival Pat Riley's. "But at the timeout, I told him he should have called glass because he didn't."
Wade doesn't have to be perfect if he gets help like he got Wednesday.
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