HEAT 106 - Hawks 85 Recap

LeBron James was the best kind of incredible Friday night. He scored 43 points on 16-of-21 shooting as the Miami HEAT beat the Atlanta Hawks, 106-85, but until a dominant 23-point third quarter put the game away, James was never the entire offense, just a piece of it.

It’s true that Miami’s offense can get hijacked by great individual efforts at times, but the significance of Friday was in what came before James’ third quarter, not just the win that came after.

It began when James caught a pass on the left wing in the first quarter and calmly rose up for a three, one of his smoothest, most in-rhythm jumpers of the season. Soon after, he flashed into the middle of the paint, receiving the pass and going up for another look 12 feet away. Later, a jumper from the same spot. All with the floor spaced, all created with ball movement, all open or past the first level of the defense.

Before halftime, James had 20 points, and they were results of the process, rather than results in lieu of the process.

“The most important thing for us is to have an attack mentality,” Erik Spoelstra said. “Great players will have games like this, as long as we know when we move forward to continue to have that attack game.”

And to remember that, above all else, the HEAT win with defense. It’s easy to take for granted how solid Miami is on that end, and to forget just how good it can be, but against the Hawks, the defense wasn’t just good, it was demoralizing.

Even with some added scoring in the fourth quarter, when the game had long since been decided, the Hawks scored less than a point per possession, not topping 21 points in any of the first three periods. But in the early going, Atlanta had its commitment to execution. The ball was moving, it was going to the matchups where it appeared to have advantages, and was generating open shots as Miami’s defense was forced to compensate.

This changed very quickly.

By Atlanta’s 16-point second quarter, the HEAT had frustrated their opponent into flawed, one-pass, one-shot offense. And they would never hint at clawing out of that rabbit hole.

“We came in with a very good focus and disposition tonight,” Spoelstra said. “There were clearly some things happening in the second half that everyone will point to . . . but I’m more encouraged by our defensive disposition in the first half and our execution.”

With the foundation of defense and execution in place, the way was paved for James’ third quarter, which, from an entertainment standpoint, was like an early Spielberg. Just sit back, put aside deeper analysis, and enjoy.

“You just sit there and you’re in awe, just laughing and smiling,” Dwyane Wade said.

There were three-pointers, there were jumpers, and better yet, they were followed by free throws, not heat checks, which Spoelstra singled out afterwards.

Was there much more to it than that? For the most part, no. In their first road game in weeks, the HEAT refined the things they do best, while even James kept to the basics. This late in the season, not needing anything more complex than that may be the best thing of all.