1. Miami was down five, seven or nine for almost the entire first half but it would have been more than that were it not for Max Strus (4-of-7 from three before the break) and Bam Adebayo, who was effectively holding the team together by his fingertips on both ends of the court.
Turned out five, seven or nine was just close enough. Atlanta started missing some of the shots, particularly their corner threes, that were falling in the first half, Adebayo kept doing his thing, Caleb Martin continued his offensive surge of the past week, Tyler Herro kept his playmaking up (first career triple double) despite missing shots and the HEAT just kept chipping away at the lead until it was theirs. One 34-point quarter later, they were up by four.
From there, the zone did its job – Atlanta looked plenty comfortable against it early and out of sorts late – and Martin (20 points on 12 shots) secured the win as Miami led by as much as 13 in the final period. While Atlanta’s defense struggled to cut off passing lanes to the HEAT’s rolling centers all night, it was Martin’s random attacks – transition pushes, drives, threes, the Martin works – that finally pushed the offense over the top after a languid start. A close game, a 106-98 victory after Atlanta managed just 38 points in the second half, but not one that is getting logged in the clutch books.
2. Adebayo (32 points) was just as good in this one as he was against Washington the other night, keeping Miami’s offense above water until everyone else could come up for some air and then shutting the door in the fourth quarter with a couple of scores. The Hawks had trouble containing any HEAT big man – Dewayne Dedmon had 13 on seven shots – as Miami was able to spam empty-corner actions, handoffs or screens, a capitalize on late, slow or absent Atlanta rotations, but as it was against the Wizards the offense was just as much off the bounce as it was off the catch (hence the 20 shots). He pushed in transition to get the defense backpedaling, ate that space up to start his move in earnest in the paint, and ate up those short mid-range opportunities that he’s been feasting on lately. If he keeps this up for long enough, not just with the makes but the volume, teams will have to start sending extra attention his way.
And of course the defense was still All-World special. Notably, in a continuation of a trend we’ve seen just about every night thus far, Trae Young (22 points on 16 shots) drew Adebayo on a switch with a short shot clock and instead of trying to create something just passed off to a teammate for a last-second heave. Nobody wants to live on Adebayo Island anymore.
3. With both teams missing significant players from their rotation we can hardly use this matchup as any sort of a basis for postseason projections, but it’s pretty clear how Dejounte Murray has changed the dynamics between these two teams. On one side Murray adds a defensive edge that Atlanta lacked when these teams faced off in last season’s First Round – particularly when it comes to creating and capitalizing on turnovers – but it’s when Atlanta had the ball that proceedings had a very different feel to them despite a familiar result from last April. In the previous five-game series the HEAT were able to load up their entire defense against Young, forcing him into turnovers by the handful both in zone and in man-to-man, and with Atlanta lacking much off-the-dribble creation elsewhere in their lineup the competitiveness of those games essentially came down to whether Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter or Bogdan Bogdanovic were able to make shots off the space Miami conceded as they shaded extra defenders toward Young. With Murray now in tow Atlanta’s second side was far more live, despite all the missed shots in the second half, with Young able to draw defenders a step or two toward him and then reverse the ball to Murray for an attack. Miami is going to see Atlanta three more times so we’ll see how all of this looks as both squads get healthier, but it’s pretty clear already – even with the zone dominated in the second half and Murray’s offense tailing off – that if there is another meeting in the postseason Miami will have to adjust their defensive approach now that the Hawks aren’t quite as heliocentric around Young.