Hawks 93 - HEAT 89 Recap

MIAMI, January 18 – This is a game to look at on its own, out of the shadow of a four-game losing streak or the season at large. This was an odd, unseemly, rhythmless contest created by the Atlanta Hawks and the Miami HEAT that many would soon like to forget.

But this game, at times a war of attrition, was unforgettable.

Both teams combined to shoot 66-of-172, or 38 percent, and 14-of-61 beyond the arc. Each team scored less than a point per possession. The Hawks ran out lineups with Josh Smith playing center, while the HEAT eventually went with a Mario Chalmers (10 points) and Eddie House (12) backcourt, with LeBron James (34 points) playing the four. Miami led in the final two minutes of both regulation and overtime.

And Joel Anthony, who started at power forward in the absence of Chris Bosh but played the majority of his 43 minutes at center, pulled in a career-high 16 rebounds (eight offensive) without attempting a single field goal.

Make sense? It shouldn’t.

“This was a tough one,” Erik Spoelstra said. “No other way to say it. A wild game in the second half, a lot of unusual lineups and rotations from both teams.”

“It was more of playing different rotations, and playing different rotations,” he added. “So far in this season, when we’ve tweaked things, and gone a little bit unconventional, is has thrown us a little bit.”

The circumstances of Atlanta’s 93-89 victory weren’t particularly outlandish. The Hawks were playing the second night of a back-to-back on the road, and lost Al Horford for the game in the third quarter. The HEAT had enjoyed two games off since a five-game road trip, but were playing without their All-Star power forward in Bosh. Otherwise, this had the makings of a competitive January game between division opponents.

Things got off on a weird foot when the HEAT, starting both their center and their backup center, shot 21 percent in the first quarter, scoring 11 points as the Hawks reduced Miami’s idea of floor spacing to the three feet needed on the perimeter for a jumper.

Fortunately, the defense, the only thing the HEAT can control night to night, was there. The Hawks scored 19 in the first quarter and 15 in the second, but as the game went on, Spoelstra attributed some of Atlanta’s misses to fatigue more than anything else, as the HEAT were losing their designated assignments in transition. Rather than finding a man and sticking with him, players were running to spots. More often than not, this left a

Hawk open on the wing or in the corner.

That was the case in overtime, when Maurice Evans (11 points off the bench) opened up the extra period with an uncovered wing three, and Jamal Crawford (19) followed that up minutes later to break an 84-84 tie with an open triple of his own.

James, who responded from a rusty first-half to score ten in overtime, was almost enough for the HEAT. But with a lineup that wasn’t experienced enough together to run Miami’s more timing-intensive plays, James was forced into a contested deep shot with 7.7 seconds to play that effectively sealed the game.

James played the hero before that, giving Miami a two-point lead in regulation after he received a wild lob pass from Joe Johnson, meant for an open Smith, and went coast-to-coast for a layup and the foul. But instead of finishing off a wild quarter which saw each team lead by five or more, Johnson hit a runner and James missed a three at the buzzer to send to the game to overtime.

“Unfortunately, Atlanta executed better down the stretch,” Spoelstra said.

But execution, with new lineups, is something the HEAT can work on. What’s important is that as confused as things got, the HEAT never stopped trying to figure things out. And as the difference between the November and December versions of the team show, they should eventually finish the puzzle.

“It showed a lot of heart for them to compete,” Spoelstra said.