For the first time in a long time, the Miami Heat were able to execute a flawlessly run offense while also clamping down on the defensive end, something that hasn’t been accomplished since their 103-73 victory over the Brooklyn Nets in early November.
The circumstances this time were much more interesting. The Heat were facing off with an Atlanta Hawks team that was challenging them for first place in the Southeast Division. The Hawks were flying into (AWFUL CLICHE ALERT) the American Airlines Arena as one of the NBA’s hottest teams, winners of their past three and eight of their past nine.
The second meeting between the two teams this season–the Heat winning the first in Atlanta–had the feel of a playoff game throughout. Atlanta kept it close throughout the first half, but Miami’s defense took over in the second half, yielding 38 second half points on their way to a 101-92 victory.
While Miami’s defense showed obvious improvements, thanks in part to the activity of Joel Anthony, it was their offense that stole the show. Going against a Hawks team that had yet to allow an opponent to shoot over 50 percent this season, the Heat went off for 58 percent shooting from the field. Miami was converting 65 percent of their shots going into the fourth quarter.
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade led the charge for the Miami Heat, naturally. The two All-Stars combined to shoot 21-of-29 from the field for 53 points, while doing a little everything else on the floor with a combined 11 rebounds and nine assists. Although they combined for seven turnovers, their unselfishness and Wade’s steadily improving jumper balanced out any mistake the Heat could have made Monday night.
Chris Bosh finished with 14 points on 11 shots to go with 10 rebounds.
The reserves also ended up playing a huge factor, specifically Joel Anthony, Shane Battier and Norris Cole. None of the three fill up stat columns or end up on highlight reels, but they’ve been doing everything right on both ends of the floor over the past few games. Tonight, it was Battier and Cole lighting it up from the field and spacing the floor, combining to shoot 5-of-7 from beyond the arc and 7-of-9 from the floor.
Cole saw minutes over Mario Chalmers in the closing minutes again. Chalmers, four points on three shots to go along with four assists and two turnovers, hasn’t been himself and it could be due to the splint he’s wearing. However, Chalmers’ struggles preceded the injury. Norris has been stepping up in his place and hit a dagger three-pointer that pushed the Heat’s lead to 13 with five minutes left in the fourth.
He took four shots and made the most of every opportunity. His mid-range game has been hot and it’s keeping him in the good graces of the coaching staff.
Another reserve receiving similar praise has been Joel Anthony. Anthony played a significant role on defense yet again. He finished with two blocks and two steals, playing superbly in the form of affecting shots at the rim and staying active on the perimeter, playing the role of an eyesore for points guards looking to pass off a pick, and using his length to disrupt attempted passes.
When Anthony is blocking shots, the Heat can initiate sequences like this:
Collectively, Miami’s defense was impressive all-around. This looked like a Miami Heat game. The Heat constantly chased potential perimeter shooters off the three-point line and performed an extremely fine job in making sure none of the Hawks’ guards were able to get a clean shot or pass off.
Jeff Teague, the same guy who made his first eight shots against Miami in the first meeting, finished 3-of-1o from the field and had five turnovers to only three assists. Louis Williams struggled against the Heat defense for a second time, scoring 11 points on 3-of-8 shooting. The final speedster in Devin Harris was limited to 23 minutes because of poor defense on Dwyane Wade.
Josh Smith and Al Horford were the only Hawks to have any sort of consistent success. Horford had a solid 20 points and 11 rebounds, while Smith finished with 22 points and converted 4-of-5 from beyond the arc. He had only eight three-pointers on the season going into the game against Miami. The fact that he had three airballs didn’t help Atlanta’s cause.
The Hawks managed 9-of-28 shooting from beyond the arc. Miami also made nine three-pointers, but needed seven less long-distance shots to do so.
The only blemish Miami can look at on the box score was the 14-of-22 shooting from the free throw line.
The Heat move to 8-1 at home and welcome a hot Golden State Warriors team on Wednesday.