The Miami Heat (26-27) had gone 2-9 on the second night of back-to-back sets this season leading up to Wednesday’s contest with the Atlanta Hawks (33-18).
Atlanta came into the game 21-5 at home, but with Jamal Crawford out with a shoulder injury and Joe Johnson struggling, the Hawks offense was stagnate for much of the contest. Miami shrugged off a slow start to take an impressive 94-76 victory to snap a 5-game home winning streak for Atlanta.
Miami has beaten there last two opponents by a combined 51 points and seem to be getting the message after losing five in a row. Dwayne Wade was upset earlier this week and spoke freely of the scoring lulls Miami goes through when he’s not in the game.
The reserves heard the call of their perennial All-Star caption and answered back with another dominate game. Miami’s reserves outscored Atlanta’s 45-8 on the night, including a 10 point second quarter by Udonis Haslem and a 14 point fourth quarter by Daequan Cook. With Wade and Michael Beasley struggling, the Heat reserves made all the difference in this one.
While the Hawks jumped out to the early lead behind the hot hand of Joe Johnson, who scored 10 points in the first quarter going 2-3 from downtown, Atlanta looked lost for most of the contest. The Hawks were up 27-20 after one, but their offense disappeared from there.
With the starting unit struggling, Udonis Haslem stepped up big for Miami. He led an 11-0 run to start the second, giving the Heat a 31-27 lead. Haslem was on fire during the run, scoring 10 points in the quarter before finishing with his second straight double-double. Haslem had 14 points and 12 rebounds. With Haslem, Wright, and Daquan Cook all playing well of the bench, Miami’s reserves outscored Atlanta’s 19-3 by halftime.
The Hawks second unit wasn’t able to put anything together offensively without Crawford and on a night the starters were struggling for both sides, the bench battle was a big difference.
Atlanta shot 4-14, scoring only 14 points in the second quarter to follow their strong start to the contest. After beginning the game so well, Johnson was held scoreless throughout the second and third quarters before finishing the contest with 16 points. The Heat defense had Johnson in lockdown.
Josh Smith was the lone bright spot for the Hawks in the second, scoring 8 of his 18 points in the period. Smith was able to keep Atlanta close, down 43-42 at the break.
The Heat weren’t able to keep their first half pace coming out of the break, at one point missing six straight shots amid an 11-2 run by the Hawks that gave them a 53-48 lead. Mike Bibby and Marvin Williams picked up the slack in the third, with Johnson continuing to struggle from the field.
After his 10-point first quarter, Johnson didn’t manage another basket until the 11:10 mark of the fourth quarter. Without his usual contribution, Atlanta wasn’t able to solve their offensive woes.
The Heat bounced back with a strong close to the period on both ends of the floor. Dwayne Wade fought through his early struggles to keep the Heat in it, scoring 7 points and adding 4 assists in the period to take the Heat to the fourth up 67-64.
Wright nailed a couple baskets from downtown as Miami’s bench continued to thrive throughout the contest. Wade finished the game with 18 points and 11 assists, playing long stretches at the point with Cook shooting lights out at the two.
Jermaine O’Neal had a solid 19 point game with his midrange shot on target all night. O’Neal managed to keep Al Horford on his toes for much of the contest, shooting 9-13 from the field, mostly from outside.
In a game all five starters for Atlanta scored in double figures, you had to wonder how the team managed to go through so many shooting droughts in the game. The Hawks shots just 37.5 percent on the night.
In a contest where every point was needed, Atlanta’s usually high scoring offense wasn’t able to get it done, but a 25-11 free throw advantage was able to keep the contest close until the midway point of the fourth quarter. From there, Miami ran away with it.
Back-to-back triples by Cook started a blitz of scoring for the Heat. The third-year guard has struggled all season, but Cook went on a rampage in this one, scoring 8 straight points for the Heat amid a 10-0 run by Miami to take their largest lead of the night at 81-71.
Cook tripled three times in the fourth, scoring 13 points in the quarter before finishing the contest with 17 points to match his season high. He was one of three players to score in double figures off the Heat bench in the game.
With Wade and Beasley struggling, the reserves embraced the chance to step up and played a solid game all night, picking up the slack with several solid runs. The Heat defense was just as impressive, contesting almost every shot and swarming around the rim anytime the Hawks penetrated the paint.
Miami held Atlanta to just 5-19 shooting in the fourth quarter and lead by as many as 18 points in the final minute as they easily rolled to the finish line.
Atlanta is in a virtual tie with Boston for the third seed in the Eastern Conference. They’ll have the next week off before heading out west for a four-game road trip beginning Wednesday in Los Angles where they’ll face a struggling Clippers team that at 21-30 has lost three in a row.
The Heat will look to build off the success from the last two nights as they struggle to hold ground in the bottom half of the Eastern Conference playoff race. Miami is currently the eighth seed, half a game behind Chicago and Charlotte and one game ahead of Milwaukee.
They’ll get the next six days off before heading on a four-game road trip of their own. First up is Philadelphia 76ers (20-32), who had won five in a row before losing tonight 104-93 in Toronto.