Outside of last year’s triple-overtime affair, when was the last time you saw an affair between the Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat turn out to be fun.
The games are usually close, but the build-up throughout the contest always disappoints. The Hawks grind the Heat down to their gritty style of play eventually leading up to a final score where both teams will finish well below the 100-point threshold. These two teams have formed one of the NBA’s most underrated rivalries, mostly in part to these close games and the 2009 postseason, and we were greeted with another close game Friday night in Atlanta.
Atlanta had lost five consecutive at home to Miami and that mark stretched to six as LeBron James and Chris Bosh came up big late to give their team a 95-89 victory. James and Bosh found the workload a little more strenuous Friday with Dwyane Wade sitting out due to a cold. While some may cite that as an excuse that shouldn’t keep Wade out, remember that this team will be on the road all of next week and it’s a wise move to make sure one of your superstar’s are ready for the long haul that comes with five games in a week.
The Heat travel to Memphis for a Sunday matinee.
Against Atlanta, though, Miami was able to make it out alive without Wade thanks to the usual heroics of James and Bosh, as well as more positive contributions from Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. Bosh had a huge bounce-back game following a game against Brooklyn where he scored only eight, posting up 24 points on only 13 shots and converting all ten of his free throws. He led all players in scoring and hit the tie-breaking jumper that gave the Heat a two-point lead with two minutes remaining.
James, finishing with 21 points, 11 rebounds, 9 assists, 2 turnovers and 1 steal in 35 minutes, hit a jumper over longtime rival DeShawn Stevenson that gave the Heat an insurmountable 93-89 lead with 13 seconds remaining. He banged knees with Josh Smith on a drive a few seconds before halftime that resulted in him coming out late with the team near the start of the third. Scoring off the dribble wasn’t as easy as it usually was for the rest of the night, but James still got his and scored when it counted.
For the third time this year, LeBron finished extremely close to a triple-double. He missed it by an assist against Atlanta, by two assists against Brooklyn, and one rebound against Denver.
James and Bosh were the focus of the Hawks’ defense throughout the night, so it became up to the role players to make contributions in order to make up for the absence of Wade. While Wade’s replacement in Mike Miller managed only four points and six rebounds in 31 minutes, it was another backup shooting guard in Allen who also played a significant role late, as well as throughout.
Allen finished with 17 points, while converting 3-of-5 from beyond the arc and 6-of-12 from the field. He hit a huge baseline jumper that gave the Heat the lead for good with 1:22 left. The Hawks proceeded to see Josh Smith miss two free throw attempts and then saw a failed alley-oop attempt. James would then hit the jumper over Stevenson to stick a dagger in the Hawks’ chances.
Among other contributions from the ‘Little 12′ include Rashard Lewis scoring seven and converting a three-pointer, Mario Chalmers scoring 12 points and 3 assists, Udonis Haslem grabbing ten rebound and Norris Cole with a strong six points and four assists in 20 minutes.
The Hawks were led by Jeff Teague who finished with 20 points on 8-of-9 shooting and 11 assists. Josh Smith and Al Horford combined for only 23 points on 11-of-28 shooting, including a dismal 6-of-19 from Smith. Anthony Morrow contributed 17 off the bench, but was quiet in the second half.
Miami now faces a series of tests with Memphis and their vaunted frontcourt that features Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. It will certainly be interesting to see how well the Heat can run small-ball against a team like Memphis, as well as the Los Angeles Clippers and their plethora of centers who await Monday.