After 24 minutes of play in Philips Arena on Martin Luther King Day, the Atlanta Hawks had scored 71 points. On a normal day, that would be grounds for, at least, a 15-to-20 point lead, but when you’re facing off with LeBron James and the Miami Heat, nothing comes easy, and Atlanta’s half-time lead was just 1 point. Still, the Hawks were able to use that explosive offensive half to keep them afloat, and after the break, the defense (finally) arrived and allowed Atlanta to grab an exhilarating home win by the score of 121-114.
From the opening tip, the Atlanta offense clicked on all cylinders, and it was starting center Pero Antic that was first to get into the act for the Hawks. Antic scored the first 5 points for Atlanta, and after just 6 minutes of play, the big man from Macedonia had 10 of the first 15 for the Hawks. From there, his teammates got into the act with a vengeance, putting up 34 first-quarter points, and that was just the beginning of an electric half of offense.
Paul Millsap joined the party by being the second member of the Hawks to produce points, and he didn’t slow down from there, scoring a game-high 20 points (on 8-for-9 shooting) in the opening half. Unfortunately, the offensive end (led by Millsap and Antic) was the only half of the game that Atlanta excelled in early, as the visiting Heat were able to match the Hawks stride-for-stride on the scoreboard.
All in all, the Heat totaled 70 points in the first 24 minutes, shooting 53% from the field, nearly 65% (!!) from 3-point range, and racking up 19 assists on 25 field goals. The most stunning stat of the half (courtesy of the Elias Sports Bureau) was that the Heat placed every member of their starting five in double-figures, and that was the first instance of that occurring in the NBA since our very own Atlanta Hawks achieved the feat in March of 2008. Miami was led by the best player in the world, LeBron James, who scored 14 points and dished out 5 assists in the opening frame, but it was a balanced effort, including a perfect 5-for-5 shooting half from Ray Allen (14 points) and 14 points from the always-maligned Mario Chalmers.
The 71-point outburst didn’t produce the type of lead that would have been ideal for Atlanta, but that didn’t deter the Hawks as they emerged from the locker room to begin the 2nd half. Atlanta began the half on an 11-3 burst, pulsed by 6 points from DeMarre Carroll, and in the blink of an eye, the lead was up to a comfortable 9-point margin. Unfortunately, the “big” lead was short-lived as Miami made a serious of mini-runs to close within 5 at the end of the period, but the Hawks were able to stay afloat thanks to their supporting players, as Carroll finished with 8 points and Elton Brand emerged with a throwback, 6-point quarter that featured some highly-influential buckets.
From there, it was a truly back-and-forth affair. The Heat made their biggest charge of the game in the middle stages of the 4th quarter, and as expected, their push was fueled by “King James”. LeBron connected on back-to-back threes that allowed Miami to take their first lead in quite some time at 107-104, and the second of those bombs (it was uncontested, for reference) caused Mike Budenholzer to call a timeout with 6:24 remaining. Fortunately, the story became much brighter from that point on.
DeMarre Carroll (there’s that man again) connected on a big three-pointer to tie the game at 107-107, and while Mario Chalmers put the Heat back in the lead with a free throw on the other end, that was the last sniff of positivity for Miami. Millsap, Antic, and Carroll combined to lead the Hawks on a 7-0 run to take a 6-point lead with just over 3 to play, and after Miami answered with a Norris Cole 3-pointer and a devastating and-1 from LeBron James, it was Kyle Korver time.
Atlanta’s chief sharpshooter was left wide open due to a Mario Chalmers slip (thanks, Mario), and Paul Millsap connected with Kyle for the “dagger” three that gave the Hawks a 119-114 lead with under a minute remaining. It was a fitting end to the game for the Hawks, as the picture-perfect shooting stroke of Korver (who earlier extended his NBA-record for consecutive games with a 3-pointer to 109) illustrated what had been a masterful offensive night for the Hawks. From there, it was academic, as the two teams traded empty possessions, and Korver’s two free throws with 14 seconds left put the game away at the final 7-point margin.
On a night with many heroes for the Hawks, two players stood out in a unique way. Paul Millsap led the offensive charge with an extreme amount of consistency, scoring a team-high 26 points on just 13 field goal attempts, and knocking down 10-for-11 from the free throw line. If there was a blemish on Paul’s record, it was that his only free-throw miss snapped a team-wide streak of 30 consecutive makes, but other than that, it was a diverse and effective performance from Millsap (while battling foul trouble throughout) that was much-needed against a team like Miami.
In support of Millsap, DeMarre Carroll had one of his best games in an Atlanta uniform. Carroll has long been Atlanta’s most effective perimeter defender, and his impact on that end of the floor was immense in this game. LeBron James did finish with 30 points, but Carroll made him work for every inch of that, and LBJ was much quieter during the 36+ minutes that Carroll occupied the floor. Offensively, it was a “breakout” of sorts for DeMarre, as he scored 19 points on 8-for-13 shooting, and his off-ball cuts (and fast break leak-outs) were key to generating some easy baskets.
Millsap and Carroll (obviously) weren’t alone in putting up big-time nights for the Hawks, and the 121-point outburst came from a variety of different areas. First, Atlanta placed seven players in double-figures in the game and an 8th (Elton Brand) scored 8 points on just 5 shots. The aforementioned Pero Antic replaced his previous career-high with 17 points on 10 shots, and while he went quiet after the early explosion, that production was vital.
The bench was also spectacular on Monday evening, outscoring Miami’s reserves 45-to-21. Mike Scott continued his “off-Broadway” campaign for the 6th Man of the Year Award with 12 points and 4 rebounds in 21 minutes, while Lou Williams added 12 points and 5 assists in spelling the starting backcourt. Lastly, Shelvin Mack was enormous, scoring 13 points, dishing out 7 assists, and playing a whopping 27 minutes off the bench. Because this was an important win for the Hawks, it will likely be ignored that starting point guard Jeff Teague violently struggled here (2 points on 1-for-7 shooting in 20 minutes), but because of Mack’s excellence, Mike Budenholzer chose to leave Teague on the pine for the final 18 minutes of clock time, and that proved to be the right choice.
The final box score was indicative of just how tremendous Atlanta’s offense was on this night, and it’s not every day that you see 52% field goal shooting, 33 (!!) assists, and 93% from the line (this is an encouraging trend) for the Hawks. Still, it wasn’t until the defense picked up the slack in the final 2 quarters (Ray Allen was held without a shot attempt after the break, for instance) that the lead began to expand, and it was a “complete” game in that sense of the word, despite the early defensive struggles.
Any time the Hawks can defeat the defending NBA champions in any venue (it’s been a long time), it is encouraging and refreshing, but when it happens in the city of Atlanta on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, it is picture-perfect.