HEAT 98 - Hawks 90 Recap

The Miami HEAT have secured the second seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs and will face the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round. Half of this development is due to the Washington Wizards beating the Boston Celtics in overtime Monday night, but Miami did itself a favor in holding on to beat the Atlanta Hawks, 98-90, all the same.

But even for the second night of a back-to-back, this could have been much easier.

Coming off one of their best games of the season against the Boston Celtics, the HEAT played a pristine first half and led by 16 going into the break. All they needed was a strong start to the third quarter, and some extra rest belonged to them. At the very least, with the Hawks not playing their starters full minutes, the lead were on the path to a comfortable win.

Things just don’t always work out perfectly.

“We knew this game was going to be a fight,” Dwyane Wade said. “No matter what happened early, we knew they weren’t going to give up, so we just had to keep playing hard. This game was just as important to us as yesterday’s game was, because [it was] drawing closer to wrapping up the two seed.”

With the lead still at 12 headed into the fourth, the Hawks went to a zone defense that had the HEAT as discombobulated as in their first true test against a zone way back in late November against the Dallas Mavericks. Miami’s offense stalled, had consecutive shot-clock violations and seemed to have few answered other than some perimeter passing and forced jumpers.

The confusion led to a 10-2 Atlanta run to bring the home team within three, and from there this was a game. Not a particularly nuanced game with the Hawks letting their bench crew play the fourth quarter out, but a fight for survival nonetheless, with the result of the Celtics game still in question.

Atlanta dominated Miami in the middle during those final six minutes as well, beating the HEAT on multiple occasions with penetration down the seam and a drop pass for a dunk, or with offensive rebounds galore in place of a basket.

With the offense slumping, Erik Spoelstra turned to his fresh sharpshooter, James Jones, off the bench, and Jones came through with consecutive threes – the first a four-point play – to offer Miami the breathing room it needed to pocket the win with Chris Bosh’s drawn charge in the final minute to seal things up.

“After they stumped us with the zone,” Spoelstra said. “I just turned to the bench and got our zone killer in there. We were able to calm down.

“We found a way to grind it out and make some key stops at the end there.”

And now, should Spoelstra elect to do so, the team can get some rest with the last game of the regular season coming Wednesday – sure to feature many bench players – and their first game against the 76ers not due up until the coming weekend.