Hawks-Heat: Miami Plays Near-Perfect Game, Takes 2-1 Series Lead

Allen LevinCorrespondent IIApril 26, 2009

MIAMI - APRIL 25:  Jermaine O'Neal #7 of the Miami Heat stops Josh Smith #5 of the Atlanta Hawks during Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals at American Airlines Arena on April 25, 2009 in Miami, Florida. The Heat defeated the Hawks 107-78. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

Another outstanding performance from the Miami Heat's supporting cast, another playoff victory. In Game Three of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, Miami took a 2-1 series lead in a convincing 107-78 win over the Atlanta Hawks Saturday night.

Just like in Game Two of the best-of-seven series, the Heat got a stellar performance from their role players, which translated into a routing of the fourth-seeded Hawks. They helped the Heat win the crucial Game Three at a sold-out American Airlines Arena in Miami. And when teams split the first two games of an NBA series, the Game Three winner advances 76 percent of the time.

Dwyane Wade led the way for Miami, posting 29 points, eight assists, seven rebounds, four blocks, and one steal. He also was 4-for-8 from the three-point line and 10-for-21 from the field. Wade had two highlight-reel dunks over Josh Smith and Al Horford, showing off everything in his offensive and defensive arsenal.

But, the true story of the game was the contributions from the supporting cast. Midseason acquisition Jermaine O'Neal stepped up for the second straight game, contributing 22 points, 10 rebounds, and three blocks. His double-double in Game Three followed a 19-point, six-rebound, four-block effort in Game Two.

While Wade and O'Neal were Miami's top scorers, the Heat got double-figure scoring from everyone in the starting lineup. Rookie Mario Chalmers had 15 points and four steals, Udonis Haslem had 12 points and 13 boards, and James Jones had 11 points on 3-for-3 shooting from beyond the arc.

“It’s not so much Wade, but that supporting cast that is making such a difference,” Josh Smith said. “If we can’t stop them, it’s going to make them a very tough team to beat.”

Not only did Miami have a great offensive game, but they had a stellar defensive effort that could be seen right in the opening minutes. The Heat had five blocks in the first quarter alone and 12 blocks in the game. The Heat also forced 10 turnovers in the game.

But, the defensive effort was felt immensely in the first half as Miami limited the Hawks to 29 points. The Heat portrayed some of their best defensive intensity of the entire season, and it came at the most important time—the postseason. The Heat frustrated the Hawks, forcing them to take off-balance shots, ruining their offensive flow. Atlanta seemed confused and helpless as Wade and O'Neal were blocking shots from every angle.

“We knew there would be a lot of energy in the building, so we played off that early,” Wade said. “And defensively we came out very tough.”

With the loss, the Hawks extended their decade-long road playoff drought. They are 0-12 on the road in the postseason since 1997, with all but one loss being by double digits. That includes all four blowout losses to the eventual champion Boston Celtics in last year's first-round matchup between the two squads.

After Game One's mishap, the Heat certainly have seemed to adjust from the mistakes that plagued them in the series opener. In Game One, the Heat went 4-for-23 from the three-point line. In Games Two and Three, they recovered for a combined 27-for-49 from beyond the arc, which is an astonishing 55 percent. In Game One, Miami got outrebounded 50-35 by Atlanta. In Games Two and Three, they recovered to outrebound the Hawks 88-68, including 48-35 in Game Three.

The Heat have been playing very good team basketball since their Game One wake up call and have really been firing on all cylinders. The Heat will look to continue that effort when they host Game Four Monday night, which could change the entire series.

If Miami can defend their homecourt and pick up a victory Monday, they will take a commanding 3-1 series lead and have a chance to close it out in Atlanta on Wednesday night.

“All of this doesn’t really mean anything unless you get this next game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.